Will Technology Ever Replace Human Translation Services?

By: Peter Lesar

Imagine a world in which you speak or write your language, and the rest of the globe could instantly understand you in theirs.

While linguists tremble at the thought, perfect software-performed translation (known as "machine translation") would save governments and businesses many billions of dollars a year. With enough platforms and distribution, it would increase productivity and add perhaps trillions more of value to worldwide GDP.

Some even believe that frictionless communication across languages would help different cultures and religions to see eye to eye, helping to bring about peace on earth (i.e., read as "no more war in Iraq").

So the first key question on the minds of many is whether or not technology will ever replace human translation services.

The short answer is...drum roll please...not in our lifetime, if ever.

Why? Because software can only produce perfect output when it receives perfect input; and humans almost never communicate with perfect usage of the rules of grammar and terminology upon which software relies to translate one language into another.

The job of building and updating a database of literally billions of exceptions to the rules of language, and then match them between hundreds of languages and thousands of dialects, would require more humans than will ever be economically feasible. And, let's not forget the countless new words and expressions that we invent every single day.

Some experts estimate that the top 10 spoken languages on the planet produce a combined 100,000 new technical terminology, slang words and localized expressions each and every year! How can these possibly be captured and translated across so many languages on a timely basis?

I suggest that you carefully read this paragraph and imagine how software, which is rigid and pitiful in the face of human subtley, could possibly translate it with both figurative and literal accuracy. You see, language is not a science, but an art. As is translation. And art is a human endeavor.

Okay, so we are all relieved to know that the livelihood of individual linguists and translation services is not at risk. But what about our second question...

Will translation technology increase the ROI on globalization and produce social benefits that we only dare imagine in today's rocky world?

My friends, I am happy to say that cultures, businesses, lovers and even religions are already being brought together by these technologies. The effects in our lifetime will be monumental.

And, in my subsequent two columns, I will tell you how. Hasta luego amigos!

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