“Aren’t you worried about Google Translate replacing you?”
Much to their delight, every translator who has attended a dinner party since the dawn of Google Translate and the SYSTRAN system has been asked this question. I’ve been asked this twice in just the last month (a personal record!), which got me thinking: like so many fields before us, perhaps we should be preparing ourselves for some major changes in the industry? Although few professional translators can be heard singing the praises of today’s modern machine translation tools, such tools have come leaps and bounds in recent years, with “intelligent” automatic translation now being incorporated into professional translation software, such as the recently released SDL Trados Studio 2017. We may never be replaced entirely, but we might need to make room for our new digital colleagues.
Translation is a delicate decision-making process; choices must be justified based on solid reasoning, research, deduction and suitability. What worries many translators about machine translation is the removal of such decision-making from the translation process, reducing it to a set of algorithms which, although they may be capable of producing human-like results, do not account for all the linguistic and paralinguistic factors that professional translators need to bear in mind. Not to mention the fact that there are some serious ethical questions to consider should automatic translation gain the upper hand; questions of liability, confidentiality and complacency, to name but a few.
That said, translators will most likely need to accept a certain amount of technological ‘symbiosis’ if we are to survive. Here’s a brief look at the current state of our potential translation partners, whom I like to call the ‘Translatorbots’…