Machine translation: nothing to be afraid of

Machine translation: nothing to be afraid of

The modern possibilities offered by machine translation raise many a fear about people being replaced by machines. In reality, humans’ place in the translation process cannot be taken by technology. Keep reading to find our why there’s no need to be afraid of this technological advancement.


Artificial intelligence and neural networks

Artificial intelligence, AI, grows, well, more intelligent by the day. It is becoming an increasingly integral part of our daily lives and is used in everything from digital banking, self-driving cars, and smart devices. Another area where AI is used is in the field of translation.

Machine translation is based on so-called neural networks. Neural networks are akin to artificial brains which can be “fed” information. In order to translate texts, the neural networks use the texts with which they were fed as a basis.


Fear of machine translation

The technological possibilities of machine translation stir a lot of worry and unease within the translating world. The underlying fear is the same one as in other sectors: Artificial intelligence could render humans superfluous. Who, many ask, would need human translators anymore if machines could do their job just as well?

However, this very question is misleading. Machines cannot do translators‘ jobs just as well. Of course it is impressive how much AI can already do and what it will be able to do soon. But, in particular when it comes to language, humans cannot simply be removed from the equation. A good translation is so much more than the pure transfer of semantics. The necessary fine-tuning is not something which can be done by a machine.

That is not to say that the translation industry should simply ignore the potential of neural networks for translation. Instead, machine translation should be seen as an auxiliary technology which can be implemented into modern workflows. After all, there is much more to it than simply “churning” a text through a machine and then using the initial result unchanged.


Machine translation: for professional use only

A lot of work goes into ending up with a good final text. It starts with the preparation of the source text; even minute formatting issues can confuse the machine. Additionally, the correct settings must be selected within the utilized software to ensure that the process runs smoothly.

Once the machine has finished its task, the result must be thoroughly edited. Depending on the type of text, there might be inconsistencies which must be corrected or repetitive word choice diversified. Then, the machine’s understanding of the text must be checked. When it comes to ambiguous sentences, the machine often chooses the incorrect option.

Finally, the text must be linguistically spruced up. Just like proofreading a translation completed “normally”, the translation must be compared with the source text to make sure that nothing is missing and that the author’s tone is properly conveyed.

This entire process requires the skillset of a professional translator, particularly because difficult passages of text must often be translated from scratch. Depending on the machine and the source text, it is also possible that the machine translation is virtually unusable. Anybody who has ever had to edit a terrible text knows that it is often quicker to just do it yourself!


Humans and machines: a real dream team

Just this short synopsis of the steps necessary for using machine translation technology should be enough to demonstrate that this is not a process that can be completed quickly and without a professional translator. Application of this technology without expert knowledge can easily lead to poor results, meaning that machine translation should be understood as a supplemental technology which requires professionals.

This is generally the case for technological advancements. It is important to take the time to understand and learn to use the technology. This allows the technology to be used for the further development of human skills and embracing the technology prevents people from being left behind. At GlobalSprachTeam, we strive to stay ahead of the curve and further human competences using contemporary means, rather than using them to replace people.

(O.M., 2021)


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