Monday, June 20, 2011

Computers Won’t Replace Human Translators (and That’s Exactly the Problem)

Jean Harlow: I was reading a book the other day…
Older woman: (startled) Reading a book!
Harlow: Yes. Do you know that the guy said that machinery
is going to take the place of every profession?
Older woman: (looks at Harlow’s body) Oh, my dear, that's
something you need never worry about.
Dinner at Eight (1933)

In a conversation with any random McLocalization expert, the apex of condescension is inevitably reached when the tech spokesperson warmly assures the linguist that he doesn’t “think computers will replace translators.” At this point, I guess the tech-skeptical translator is supposed to get down on his knees and exclaim: “Hallelujah! Lawdy, Lawdy! Massah so good to me! I’se never gwine leave Massah!”

Computers won’t replace translators? As we used to say in the schoolyard: “No sh*t, Sherlock.”

I also do not believe that MT will replace human translators. On the contrary, that is exactly what I am afraid of. My dystopia is one in which IT engineers surgically graft a machine translation Siamese twin onto every translator and put the two to work at a fraction of a living wage. With the added aggravation that the MT twin suffers from a crippling cognitive disability.

That in a nugget is the objective of hamsterization. Since artificial intelligence has fallen flat on its face, crowdsourcing with a dash of automation is the necessary flanking move.

Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He is specialized in equity research, economics, accounting, and investment strategy. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center and H.B.O. International, as well as many small-and-medium-sized brokerages and asset management companies operating in SpainTo contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. Feel free to join his LinkedIn network or to follow him on Twitter.

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