Are Google Translate and Microsoft’s Star Treck Tech Taking Translation Jobs?

star treck 2

In 2006, Google came out with Google Translate and people went nuts arguing over whether or not that would mean job losses for translators. At the time, while sustaining that it takes a human to understand and convey language nuances and expressions of uniquely human abilities like sarcasm or humor, most translators agreed Google Translate was rubbish and there was no way a machine could ever really replace us. Back then, I argued that Google Translate would evolve, it would get better and some jobs would indeed be lost, and what’s more, they should be! Before you bite my head off for that last bit, please read on, I can explain.

Microsoft has announced the launch of its new Star Trek translation technology that renders real time translation of spoken language. Like its predecessor, Google Translate, it sparked the debate all over again. So again, here’s what I have to say: eventually some jobs will be lost. I’ve been following Google Translate since its inception and guess what? It was designed to learn and evolve –and it did. We’re talking about a program that in 2006 could not translate sentences with plural subjects or subjective clauses and now it can. In some languages, it even does so pretty well. The reason is that for the past 8 years users have been feeding Google Translate with the necessary corrections and information for it to evolve. But what can Google Translate get relatively right? Grammatically correct source sentences with basic language structures, particularly, simple instructions, like those found in manuals, mostly in Western languages being translated to and from English. If the source is grammatically incorrect, Google Translate will probably fail; but when the source is well-written and simple, then Google Translate can do the job about as well as a one or two-cent-per-word translator (yes, those exist!).

Recently, Microsoft embarked on a mission to create “even better” translation technology and we’d be lying to ourselves as translators if we failed to admit that a lot of what some translators do (again I mean one or two-cent-per-word translators) is really uncomplicated enough to easily be replaced by machine translation and then merely tweaked a bit by a human. Many argue that this doesn’t mean jobs will be lost; instead, the role of translators will simply change. Though the second premise is true, the first is mathematically unsustainable. Some translators will experience this change from linguist to editor, but it is not cost-effective for all translators to survive the cut. So while some cling to the editing raft, others will inevitably sink.

But is this really such a big deal, anyway? Even though technical manuals and similar texts constitute a large part of what actually gets translated, there is also a myriad of texts that are not that simple and still fall under the category of things containing uniquely human expressions and nuances that simply cannot be captured by a machine. In fact, sometimes, they can’t even be captured by another human with a lesser command of language, lower cultural level than the author of the source, or unsuitable background knowledge for the task at hand! Sometimes, even humans fail to convey the essence of a complex source text, and in my area of specialization, that includes legal translators, for lack of familiarity with either jurisprudence or nuances (not of legalese, but of legal systems altogether). So while I think good legal translators (like translators working in many other complex areas of translation) are nowhere near threatened by machine translation, I’m afraid I can’t say the same for those two-cent translators out there.


2 thoughts on “Are Google Translate and Microsoft’s Star Treck Tech Taking Translation Jobs?

  1. 2006年,谷歌推出了谷歌翻譯,人們瘋了爭論與否,這將意味著失業的翻譯。當時,同時保持它需要一個人來理解和表達語言的細微差別和人類獨有的能力,像諷刺幽默或者表達,最譯者同意谷歌翻譯是垃圾,沒有辦法一台機器所能真正取代我們。那時候,我認為谷歌翻譯將演變,它會變得更好,有些工作確實丟失,更重要的是,他們應該!在你咬我的頭對於最後一點,請往下看,我可以解釋。

    微軟已經宣布推出其新的星際旅行翻譯技術呈現口語的實時翻譯。像它的前身,谷歌翻譯,這引發了爭論一遍。如此反复,這裡就是我要說:最後一些工作都將丟失。我一直在關注谷歌翻譯自成立以來,你猜是什麼?它的目的是學習和發展 – 和它做。我們談論的是一個程序,在2006年無法翻譯的句子用複數主語或主觀的條款,現在可以了。在某些語言中,它甚至這樣做很好。原因是,在過去的8年得到了用戶的谷歌餵養與翻譯必要的更正和信息為它演變。但是,谷歌可以得到翻譯相對正確的?基本語言結構,語法正確的句子源特別,簡單的指令,像那些在手冊中發現,主要是在西方語言被翻譯,並從英文。如果來源是語法不正確,谷歌翻譯可能會失敗;但是當源是精心編寫的,簡單的,那麼谷歌翻譯可以做的工作,以及一個或兩個美分每字轉換器(是的,那些存在!)。



    This is the article translated into Chinese using Google translate, it’s indeed full of errors, but to be honest Chinese readers would still be able to understand the gist of the article and successfully interpret the rest.


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