Can the Proliferation of Machine Translation Tools Replace the Need for Human Translators?

Can the Proliferation of Machine Translation Tools Replace the Need for Human Translators?

Will machine translation tools replace human translators? This is a question that precipitates from the perennial debate on the broader question of whether machines will make human beings redundant. While at the overall level, it can be emphatically said that it will take a long time for machines to replace humans, in the field of language translation, the gap seems to be closing on quickly, causing a ruffle amongst the translator fraternity and letting the anxiety factor skyrocket. 

The advent of machine translation tools and software has implanted a lurking fear in the minds of  translators that their  professional opportunities will be soon wiped out. The proliferation of custom machine translation software and multilingual content management systems poses the threat of making human translation an extremely low value-added job. However, there are mixed views about the quality of machine translated output. 

For absolutely formal translation requirements, machine translation can only be seen as a preliminary step to actual human translation, deployed to reduce the effort or expedite the process. The day when every document can be solely machine-translated and rendered fit for purpose is still very far off and awaits several relevant breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and natural language processing. While on the topic of being fit for purpose, it is important to determine exactly where human translation efforts are going to serve.

In the case of lengthy and highly technical patent documents, human effort is perhaps not required to render the translated documents with just the amount of information required for understanding the technicalities. Machine translation tools in such situations serve to tremendously channel human effort away from the least value-adding use cases to the most value-adding, for e.g., legal documents and court hearing transcriptions. Relevance and fitness of the document to be translated to the purpose of translation still remains the single-most determinant of the choice between human and machine translation.

Meanwhile, there is no denying that machine translation is here to stay. Machine translating software development companies extending their language capabilities and investing in breakthrough technologies that can enhance the accuracy and speed of translation are testimonies to this fact. Built on a simple model of replacing words from one language to another, the improvement achieved in the effectiveness and accuracy of a machine-translated output is something to be marvelled. Still, one gets an occasional surprise, keeping alive the debate on whether machines can become an effective replacement for human translation as yet. For the consuming companies, especially large corporations with voluminous translation requirements, deploying machine translation is a huge opportunity to contain costs and expand margins, thus making the investment in a basic machine translation tool for day-to-day requirements attractive. This trend has put enormous pressure on translation companies to keep their prices extremely competitive and position themselves better than their software counterparts. 

However, as long as machine translation does not effectively pick up substitutable words based on context, tone, shade of meaning, linguistic nuance and idiomatic expressions, the need for humans is irrefutable. While machine translation tools can effectively handle factual documents, prose and other forms of literature with layers of meanings definitely need the touch of a human linguist to accurately capture the essence of the original in the translated version. Predominantly relying on software tools for this type of translation poses the risk of statements and ideas being misconstrued.

In this scenario, computer-aided or computer-assisted translation software tools are striving to strike a balance by not aiming to replace human translators but rather assisting them to improve the efficiency of human translation by promoting words and phrases learnt from past translation jobs. These tools also allow the translator to avoid common errors and reduce the effort in proofreading and quality checking. One important aspect that is extremely difficult to incorporate in any automated translation tool is the ability of the human translator to gauge the level of knowledge of the audience receiving the translation. This is the single-most feature that imparts the most personal touch to a translation job and also aids the cultural and contextual relevance of translation at large.  To conclude, although there are many inherent lacunae in machine translation that makes it inferior to human translation, there are several advancements in the field of automation and linguistic programming that make it hard to ignore its benefits to the industry. This implies that hybrid human and machine translated outcomes will become extremely promising from the point of view of efficiency and effectiveness for the purpose.