Author page: Adam Burman

Machine Translation: I am Robot!

Machine Translation: The Robotic Language Apocalypse

There’s a lot of talk going around about Machine Translation: how good is it? Is it really worth it? Will it surpass humankind in the linguistic arts, eventually causing some kind of robotic, language-apocalypse?

Probably not. At least not any time soon.

But, while we may still have some time left in this world before machine translators rule the day, it might be worth contemplating another possibility: will machines gain the intelligence required to manipulate language in the same way that we do? If they do, what then?

 

Language and AI (artificial intelligence)

AI is a hot-debated topic. Some say it will drastically improve our day-to-day lives – that it would be the pinnacle of human achievement. Others say the opposite; that self-aware machines might only be our undoing.

World-changing pros and cons aside, there is another consequence of man-made life that we have yet to reflect on in great depth, and it is one that we at BLS are certainly interested in: how will AI change the way we speak? And how, in turn, will it have an impact on the translation industry?

As with the development of any new technology, it is to be expected that the arrival of super-smart, walking, talking machines would inevitably spur on the creation of new words (called neologisms). New discoveries and inventions require additions to language to help communicate novel concepts. Perhaps, by the end of this decade, we’ll all be working with our own personal mechmates. Or perhaps not!

On the other hand, as society rushes forward, some fields of work and knowledge will be left behind, meaning that certain words might become obsolete and fall out of common usage. (A computer? What’s that?!)

This is only the surface of what could happen to our way of communicating in the event of genuine artificial intelligence coming into play. In reality, we might see a much more radical and fundamental change to our community of languages. Would machines even bother with something that, to them, could seem so primitive? This could stir on a competitive spirit between our two kinds, possibly leading to the evolution of a whole new way of conveying ideas between people and cultures.

 

What does all this all mean for human translation and our industry?

As far as we are concerned, though, the bottom line is this: are our days as translators numbered?

This all depends on how good AI has the potential to become. Translation is no simple matter; we are tasked with understanding more than meaning – we must take into account context, associations, intent and a myriad of other factors. This requires a kind of emotional awareness and intelligence that, so far, only humans have been capable of. And what about trust and confidentiality?

If we were to create machines that experienced life in the same way that we do, then perhaps a never-tiring, omniscient race of androids may one day see the end of human translators. However, would they ever really be able to understand the world from our perspective, and make that perspective known to others of our own kind?

 

What do you think?

Josh Emanuel
Business Language Services Ltd.

Word of the Year 2018

Word of the Year


Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year

Following hot on the heels of ‘selfie’, ‘post-truth’ and ‘omnishambles’, the Oxford Dictionary has awarded ‘youthquake’ the title of ‘Word of the Year’. Oxford Dictionaries define this Word of the Year as, ‘a significant cultural, political or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people’. Usage is also important in determining the top accolade, and youthquake experienced a five-fold increase between 2016 and 2017. This was attributed to the General Election and the increasing mobilisation of young voters, who are often vociferous but traditionally represent the lowest percentage of the actual voting turnout.

2017 Winner: Youthquake

Youthquake is not, however, a new word; it was first coined by the editor of Vogue magazine, Diana Vreeland, who used it in the 1960s to describe how youth culture at that time was influencing both the music and fashion scenes. Nowadays, it is most often used to denote young people’s engagement in politics. It would seem that the word has yet to make the hop across the Atlantic to the US, where its use is very infrequent. It may yet become one of those words, such as ‘Attorney’, which started out in the UK, later travelling to the US only to fall out of favour in the UK, and then be deemed an inappropriate Americanism.

Feminism

The American dictionary, Merriam Webster, announced that its Word of the Year 2017 was ‘feminism’ as it was the most researched word in its online dictionary, and actual searches for the definition of the word had increased by 70% compared to the previous year. Merriam Webster has defined feminism as, ‘(a) the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes and (b) organised activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests’. Some women, whilst celebrating the influence and recognition of this word and all it stands for, have expressed a level of dismay that the definition of the word is still given as theoretical rather than actual.

Milkshake Duck

The Macquarie Dictionary of Australian English awarded ‘milkshake duck’ its Word of the Year 2017. Coined on Twitter by Australian cartoonist, Ben Ward, in June 2016, its definition in the Macquarie Dictionary is, ‘a person who is initially viewed positively by the media, but is then discovered to have something questionable about them which causes a sharp decline in popularity’.

Word of the Year 2018

Will an emoji be shortlisted or even win the accolade in 2018, as it did in 2015 with “Face with Tears of Joy”. Which words will make the shortlist for Word of the Year 2018? Do you have any favourites?

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