Manual or automatic translation?

Automatic translation continues to improve day by day. However, it is still unable to reach perfect levels of accuracy and lacks a natural feel. Will it ever replace human translation?

Thanks to the international festival of the World Cup in Russia, 2018 has perhaps become the year of consolidation for automatic translation, which is now recognised as an important tool for connecting different cultures.The CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, commented that the average 143 million words translated daily on Google Translate increased by 30% during the tournament. Fans from all over the world, not able to speak Russian, could therefore ask for directions in the street or for the ingredients of a traditional dish in a restaurant with just their mobile. However, despite the translating service being able to assist travellers during their stay, users continue to be concerned over the accuracy of the translations it provides, a problem that usually occurs with most automatic translation technology.

Although the internet was created to break down barriers and facilitate communication between people last century, it is still unable to surpass the language limits between them today. Technology companies dedicate countless hours and funds to improve the accuracy of robotic translation.

For example, in order to provide their users with new experiences, Twitter and Facebook recently added translations that allow messages to be transformed into more than 40 languages when sent or received from their web pages or mobile applications. Google has also announced the development of ‘AutoML Translation’ as a way of improving the interpretative abilities of its translator in 27 dialects. The latest step forward for artificial intelligence is Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a technology that stimulates the human brain and tries to capture the meaning of phrases and words in their context in order to adapt them into a new language.

These neural networks can therefore produce more natural translations and improve automatically over time, as the system incorporates new structures and concepts. However, they can short-circuit as the unpredictable human mind sculpts and changes language all the time with the influence of idioms, cultural references and new word play at a rate that a machine can simply not keep up with. Even typical linear translations are commonly nonsensical and can lead to a comedic diplomatic scenario or conflict, worthy of an episode of the series Black Mirror.

The translation sector has begun to use this technology and recognises some benefits. From specialists in science to commerce and literature, many translators admit that working hours are considerably shortened with this additional accurate work. Costs are also reduced and companies choose to use automatic translation services under the supervision of an editor, instead of having a professional translator from the beginning of the process.

For now at least, the dreams of those who wish for an artificial world are yet to come true. Business do not fully trust automatic translations produced by machines and continue to need human intervention to ratify their accuracy, upholding a belief that the future requires them both to work in tandem.

Translation into English: Madeleine Hancock

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