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How Much Do We Need Human Translator?

In just a few months since its official release in November 2022, Chat GPT has been taking the world by storm. Users are constantly made surprised by not only how smart but also how sensible the AI chatbot has been demonstrating. From answering simple questions to writing a scientific article accepted for publication, Chat GPT shows that its abilities are beyond what we can imagine about a robot.

And that’s exactly what human resources need to beware of: the rapid development of AIs that may endanger our jobs. In the past, when the first industrial revolution took place, blue-collar workers lost their jobs to auto machines that ran quicker, more efficiently, and less costly. The emergence of Chat GPT makes us realize that even intellectuals and professionals can eventually be replaced by an AI that can produce complicated works such as a thesis. These professionals include ones working in the field of translation and interpretation.

Both professions have already been affected long before the emergence of Chat GPT. Since the invention of the first machine translation application in 1992, multiple developments and improved applications have been created, assisted by the blooming of the Internet, computers, and smartphones. How have these creations been affecting translators and interpreters worldwide?

The development of translation AIs

The invention of machine translation services dates back to World War II with Alan Turing’s decoding machine. However, the first public service was introduced in 1992, translating from English to German. Three years later, Babel Fish Altavista was brought to the public as an automatic translation machine that can translate texts into more than one language.

From that point onward, many other translation machines have been introduced, bringing more accurate translations in more languages and practical functions. The most popular and most used machine translation service to this moment is Google Translate, with more than a hundred languages provided and also a threat to translators’ jobs.

Although Google Translate might be faulty, it’s faster and less costly than hiring professional translators. Other than that, the developers of Google Translate have been showing their determination to perfect their child by constantly improving the quality of translation and translation speed as well as adding more languages and forms of translations, including speech-to-speech, text-to-speech, and picture-to-text.

Aside from Google Translate, countries with more complicated linguistic systems also provide their own more suitable versions of machine translation services. For Korean, for instance, Naver Translate is the go-to translation application for learners as they generally provide more accurate and culturally appropriate translations. The application is also integrated with an online dictionary for learners’ easy access to new vocabulary. As for Chinese texts, applications like Baidu Translate and Quick Translator are always ready to fix Google Translate’s common mistranslations.

What’s the threat to translators and interpreters?

Many people laughed or have been laughing at Google Translate and some ridiculous results it produced. Still, it is undeniable that the application has been one of the most used excuses for contractors and clients to force translators to reduce their rates. The invention of other applications with impressive improvements in language recognition and processing also poses a threat to the role of translators and interpreters.

AIs and applications make mistakes, but humans do, too. While there’s no guarantee that humans may make fewer mistakes than machines, translation apps often provide services at much cheaper costs, faster speed, and in a much more convenient way. For instance, to translate three pairs of languages, you either need to hire three different translators or use one single application. When traveling to a foreign country, instead of bringing a heavy dictionary everywhere or paying to have a private interpreter, a mobile application with a solidconnection to the Internet allows you to ask questions almost immediately.

It is also due to the emergence of translation applications that suddenly anyone can claim themselves to be translators. In Vietnam, a lot of amateurs devalued the price floor of the translation market by advertising that they could translate a massive load of documents in an unbelievably short amount of time at a smaller price than professionals. Of course, what they turn in afterward is often a mess of errors. Still, so many similar advertisements create an illusion for clients that they should only hire translators at a lower price than what they are worth, causing translators distress and temptations to quit their jobs.

How much do we need human translators?

So helpful as machine translations can be, human resources are irreplaceable.

Decades ago, we thought no blue-collar would survive the wave of auto machines taking over their positions. However, they found roles that even machines could not fill, such as mechanics fixing faulty devices or supervisors watching over the operation chains.

Machine translations can be fast and constantly improved, but there are aspects of translation and interpretation that they are unlikely to fulfill. Literature translation has been one of the fields that machine translators haven’t worked out effectively due to their inability to understand figurative speech and infer the cultural details and the writers’ intentions. Interpretation is also proven intricate for machine translators whendealing with jokes or sensitive information.

Although machine translators can indeed be immensely developed to be more sensible, like how Chat CGP has demonstrated itself, that day when humans’ sensitivity can be replaced entirely is far away. Furthermore, instead of fearing machine translators, human translators can use them to deliver faster and more accurate products.

For instance, using Google Translate API on Trados is a routine practice for many professional translators, helping to pre-translate the input so that translators save time on translating and only need to focus on editing the auto translations. Such a practice helps to cut down on time spent on a project, incredibly long and urgent tasks that require to be submitted in a short amount of time.

What translators and interpreters should fear and fight against, therefore, is probably not the machine translators but the people who are using machine translators to devalue their works. Human translators will continue to be needed as long as they thoroughly understand their skillsets and their values to the market, as well as find out ways to cooperate with machines in peace.

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