The rise of the machines. Can AI translate better than humans?

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The rise of the machines. Can AI translate better than humans?

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Can AI translate better than humans

There’s been a lot of buzz around AI writing technology lately, with platforms like ChatGPT being touted as shortcuts for writing anything from emails to degree dissertations. But what about translation? There are any number of translation apps and tools around, and most of us have tried out Google Translate on holiday at least once (with varying degrees of success).

But what’s the story when it comes to the pros and cons of machine translation and human translation for business use. How good is AI translation really, andcan AI translate better than humans?

We went to a big business Expo recently, which was focussed on businesses which were ready to scale up and go to the next level. Lots of tech. Lots of talk about digitalisation. And lots of artificial intelligence. Rob, our MD says:

“I met the CEO of a company based on AI communications, and they were showing the prototype of a robot that had spent the last 5 years or so in R&D. You can select different characters and it will speak to you as though it is that person. He showed us Barack Obama, and it was really impressive, being able to ask a question and have it answered. You can also ask it to answer in different languages. We tried it in German. Again, the result was impressive. I asked whether the translation from English into German was correct. “Umm. No idea. It uses Google Translate.”

“So there we were. A seriously impressive interface, but beyond the personal characteristics, the language translation was exactly what you’d get if you typed or spoke into the Google Translate app.”

“I’m not talking it down, and you’d have to have your head firmly shoved in the sand to ignore the fact that AI will force a day of reckoning sooner or later. But I don’t think we’re there yet.”

Let’s have a look at what artificial translation means, and how it’s changing how translation services work.

What is AI translation?

AI translation means translating text with computers instead of humans, using artificial intelligence technologies, particularly machine learning and natural language processing to improve accuracy. AI translation technology learns from huge amounts of data to interpret language patterns and context, and learn the nuances of different languages. Algorithms identify patterns to help the technology ‘learn’ and predict how words and phrases work together to offer more accurate translations, not only literally, but also contextually.

Is machine translation better than human translation?

That’s a rather subjective question, and it depends on your needs. There are some effective translation technologies around, and many multilingual businesses are using artificial translation to translate information into different languages. But there are times when a human translator’s expertise and intimate knowledge of a language are still essential.

What are some of the benefits of AI translation compared with human translation?

Today’s AI translation software is constantly improving, becoming more accurate and better at dealing with context and nuance. Compared with human translation, it offers:

  • Speed — the ability to translate large volumes of text in real-time, much faster than human translators.
  • Scalability — AI can translate multiple languages and dialects simultaneously.
  • Cost-effectiveness — Compared with professional human translation services, AI translators can cost a lot less, especially for large volumes of text.
  • Learning ability — AI systems constantly improve their accuracy and fluency, learning from new data and user corrections.
  • Simple user interface — Most systems simply need you to input text and will automatically provide translation automatically.

What are some important benefits of human translation over AI translation?

With all of those benefits, you might be convinced that AI translation is the way forward. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There remain significant limitations to machine translation, where human translators have the edge.

  • Context, nuance and emotions – whilst it’s true that AI translation systems are able to ‘learn’ they are still limited when it comes to subtle nuances, tone and cultural sensitivity. This can impact on the ability to localise your text; you need a human translator to achieve that.
  • Legal and technical accuracy – where absolute precision is vital, you can’t rely on AI translation to deliver a perfect translation. Only human translators with the relevant specialist expertise can achieve that.
  • Ethical considerations – artificial intelligence doesn’t have a conscience. It will translate what’s there based on the data available to it, but it can’t highlight issues of concern like a professional translator can.
  • Dealing with rare languages – since AI translation is based on data, the more frequently the language is used online, the more accurately it can translate. So less commonly spoken languages may be less reliably translated as the available data will be more limited. A human translator who is a native speaker of the language or dialect will be more accurate – as well as more nuanced.
  • Confidentiality – if you are dealing with sensitive information, how much do you know about what happens to your text once you upload it into a translation system? Professional translators understand the need for privacy and security, and will use secure systems to process your information.
  • Understanding of your needs – talking to a human translation service about what you are trying to achieve will offer you support, options and suggestions.

Artificial intelligence is dramatically changing how everybody works

We’re already seeing how certain jobs are being impacted by artificial intelligence. The younger generations are looking at career choices based on how much work is changing, and the World Economic Forum estimates that 65% of kids currently in primary school will go into jobs that don’t even exist today.

So can AI translation replace human translation?

Short answer: not entirely, at least, not yet. There’s been a lot of ‘noise’ around technologies like Chat GPT over the last couple of years, and there are many other platforms out there that offer AI translation. Will ChatGPT replace human translators? We don’t see that happening just yet.

Finally, we sometimes get asked for advice about using AI translation apps, with the most common question being “Is there an AI better than Google Translate?” While Google Translate is hugely popular, and covers over 100 languages, there are other options if you need a quick and reasonably reliable tool. ChatGPT is widely known, and DeepL is another user-friendly option.

Ultimately, though, as professional human translators, we always come back to the fact that we are a people service. We’re not just translating words, we solve problems. Our clients rely on more than just accurate, timely translations.

They are looking for understanding of their challenge, market or situation, and appreciate the confidence that comes from working with trusted professionals who are dedicated to doing the best for them.

We care about the outcome, and that’s something AI just can’t do.

Contact us to discuss your next project.