The old subject of AI in the translation business
I have been thinking about how, for years now, translators have been threatened by the machine translation technology (I wrote a little about it here), but we were isolated as an “invisible” profession and, a lot of people still believe that Artificial Intelligence can replace the craft of translation.
The AI trend in the translation context was never shocking to the public as we see now that it is threatening the creative world with art, books and images being generated by AI and authors, actors, and artists in general rising to the moment and speaking out.
As the general understanding of the translator craft does not consider it artistic, the several translating machines available in sites, applications and such, are celebrated by the same people that are now appalled that images, books and videos are being “created” by AI.
The work of human translators is the source of all the Machine Translation available, without none of us ever having consented to our work being used to feed a database. It happened and nobody noticed (or cared, actually) as they are noticing now regarding other fields.
Somehow, this never really worried me professionally. At first, it was a real joke, the results of machine translation would sometimes be funny and treated as such. We have seen the quality of machine translation improving over the years, of course. I can understand that it can be an important resource, in emergency situations where language is a barrier, for instance, but I never saw it as something that can replace the need of a human translator. A 100% machine translated book will not be readable, believe me. A 100% machine translated site or marketing material will not look professional.
There are nuances and dynamics of the language that a machine will never “learn”, as language is organic, changes over time, and everything depends on context, situation and logic that are not binary and cannot be treated efficiently by a database. In a text that was translated by AI, we can see hilarious, if not tragic, mistranslations that could cause serious issues for a company or take away the pleasure of reading.
Also, there is one additional problem. The wrong translations and false cognates when used in a document, book or site will be fed back to translation databases and the result is that the more you use purely AI for translation, the worse your database will be. Eventually, it may become useless.
Recently, authors worried and spoke out about databases found on the internet with their work feeding them, and I think there are some similarities with the process. The creation of a history is not mechanical, the books cannot be simply copied and pasted, as that would be plagiarism and the sum of different plots, writing styles and humour will not result in a good outcome, therefore, it will never “compete” with real art.
The result of the recent uproar about AI is that I feel less alone and slightly more understood, although I still see people dismissing a translators work and still believing it is something that AI can replace, at least the topic is being discussed regarding how far can we go with AI and I am sure this will benefit translators also, so I believe it is an important moment with all this visibility of the problem.