Monday, March 6, 2023

Staring at the technological future and present in the eyes – lessons from the 2023 conference of the Israel Translators Association



Nothing is more frightening than change and the unknown. This past week, the Israel Translators Association hosted several industry and technological leaders, who addressed the future of translation in the face of fast-developing technology. The participants in the conference gained an understanding of the impact of new developments in the field and practical approaches to future growth. The level of the presentations, both in terms of content and delivery, was extremely high without any significant overlapping, thus providing a perspicuous and broad view of the situation. The lecturers included Keith Brooks (To Grow, or Not to Grow, That is No longer the Question, But the Imperative), Zvi Gordon (Technology in the translation industry: current picture and a look at the future),  Katia Jimenez (Understanding the progress of artificial intelligence in language), Kirti Vashee (The changing translation technology landscape), Nora Díaz (Translation and Interpretation Technology: The Basics and Beyond) and Rafa Lombardino (Language Professionals: Technology is On Our Side), to name just a few. My conclusion from these lectures was that not only was technology already here and a part of the industry, it does not actually threaten translation or translators, nor does the new wonderchild, ChatGPT. Just as importantly, translators can and should study the emerging technology and harness it to their specific needs.

The dominant message was that the various forms of machine translation had already established a strong presence in the industry but not necessarily at the expense of human translators. Specifically, certain domains have fully adopted every-improving version of machine translation and use them almost exclusively. Interestingly, these domains are places where human translation could not tread, i.e., where the sheer volume, potential cost and limited context made machine translation the ideal tool. For example, companies such as Airbnb, Ali Express and Amazon need to localize thousands of words on a daily basis. By contrast, in areas where context, accuracy and style count, such as in law, medicine and marketing, the worldwide volume of human translation keeps on expanding. Referring to the human element, Ellen Elias-Bursać said in her lecture on interpreting and translating during the Hague War Crimes trials that the translators had to stand in court and justify their translation. Where ever there is that potential, whether in court or in front of any person, human translation and interpretation is the best option.

As for the latest craze, reaching 1 million users in only four months, ChatGPT is very interesting but not actually a threat to translation. Specifically, the speakers noted that the machine compiled text from existing corpus without discrimination of accuracy, bias or style of content. In other words, it was a random generator of text, somewhat regulated by the limitations imposed by the party entering the request. It can be valuable for identifying grammar mistakes or improving style or vocabulary, especially for non-native writers. However, as its output is not specific or accurate enough for most translating assignments, its value as a translator is quite limited.

In practice, the speakers consistently spoke of the need for translator to investigate any technology that may improve their work content or process. Clearly, it is possible to be successful without applying most if not all of the technological tools, but future success will probably depend on selective use of modern methods as well as understanding their advantages and limitations. The message for translators was that the future involved not only selectively adopting new technology but also changing the attitude towards it from complete fear to measured understanding.

As a demonstration of that approach, one of the speakers mentioned fully automated cars, noting that some major companies have stopped investing money on their development but are actively using them for moving goods from one building to another on a clearly defined route. The moral here is that not that the technology is not valuable but its effective use is limited by its lack of ability to make complex judgments. Likewise, where judgment is vital, human translators will have work. Yet, those that better leverage existing and emerging technology will have an efficiency advantage. To identify the appropriate tools, more than ever, translators need to keep an open mind in regards to technology. It is far less frightening than it would seem and may be quite benevolent. The future is in our hands as we learned at the ITA 2023 conference.

* Picture captions help the blind fully access to the Internet.

Picture credit

No comments:

Post a Comment