Adapt or die
Elisabeth Hippe-Heisler reports from the University of Portsmouth 17th Annual Translation Conference, which focused on the march of machine translation.
In a world where machine translation (MT) is becoming ubiquitous, the theme of the University of Portsmouth 17th Annual Translation Conference, ‘Translation and Disruption: Global and Local Perspectives’, couldn’t have been more topical. The event brought together translation researchers and students, language professionals and other industry stakeholders who were all keen to discuss MT and the latest technological aspects of translation.
Isn’t it striking how often the word ‘magic’ appears in descriptions of neural machine translation (NMT)?
NMT already outperforms statistical machine translation (SMT). But the mechanisms of NMT are so complicated that often its intricacies are not even fully understood by its developers. According to Professor Dorothy Kenny from Dublin City University, one of the keynote speakers, the most worrying part of NMT is therefore its opacity, which opens the door to error and misuse.
Sarah Griffin-Mason, ITI chair and senior lecturer in Translation Studies at the University of Portsmouth, reported back from the FIT 2017 Congress in Brisbane. She spoke about advances in artificial intelligence; the visibility and value of language service providers; the shortcomings of the gig economy; and the right to bear the title ‘translator’ – issues that affect us all.
In her talk, Sarah, enthused us with her optimism about the future of professional translators and interpreters. Without a doubt, there will always be sectors with a need for premium suppliers. She encouraged us to make a big noise about what we humans do that machines can’t do – and why we’re so brilliant!
The conference was rich in insights into the underlying issues around MT and what it means for language professionals. It seems that the best way forward through the impending disruption will be to adapt appropriately to the challenges ahead. In other words, we need to work out where we fit – and then communicate this clearly to clients.
Akiko Sakamoto and Begoña Rodríguez de Céspedes from the University of Portsmouth presented the outcomes of a focus group study with UK language service providers.
Among the main findings was that project managers are not sufficiently informed about how much their translators use MT. However, they are cautiously positive about translators using MT, provided the subject matter and/or language combination is appropriate. The focus group study can be downloaded from www.iti.org.uk/
“The conference was rich in insights into the underlying issues around MT and what it means for language professionals”
Joss Moorkens from Dublin City University spoke about the pros and cons of NMT. Its main strength lies in grammatical improvements, whereas lexical transfers are bound to suffer. According to Joss, NMT results look promising due to improved fluency and fewer word order errors; however, its advantages are not clear-cut. Errors are more difficult to spot, it’s computationally expensive, etc. NMT even sometimes suggests translations in the form of neologisms that, following research, turn out not to exist! So despite all the hype, multiple problems with NMT output persist.
Nonetheless, NMT can be an attractive option in some cases. It was therefore useful to learn about the profile of future post-editors, outlined by Gys-Walt van Egdom and Jakub Absolon. The qualities that make a good post-editor include:
good revision skills; the ability to make quick quality assessments and adhere to guidelines; tolerance; and (very important!) a positive attitude to MT. Gys-Walt noted that MT has not only become a standard feature in every CAT tool, but also a service in its own right, with its own ISO code as of 2017.
In summary, the University of Portsmouth 17th Annual Translation Conference provided a powerful glimpse into the future of translation and interpreting. I came away from it feeling passionate about my profession and confident that, despite the recent hype about NMT, a safe future exists for all translation and interpreting professionals who remain committed to the cause.
I found myself agreeing with the suggestion that post-editors deserve higher rates than translators, since post-editors will not only have to spot errors that computers have made, but also apply high-level and quick decision-making in their role as translators and specialists.
It was generally felt that, although MT might fundamentally change how we work, the overall outlook remains positive. There seemed to be a general consensus that MT is no longer to be looked down upon as a ‘dirty’ activity; as the taboo issue that no one wants (or dares) to talk about.
by: Elisabeth Hippe-Heisler
Elisabeth Hippe-Heisler MITI is a freelance English/Italian to German translator who specialises in patents and contracts. You can find her on Twitter, @detransferendo (English) or @EHippeHeisler (German). She blogs about translation and minimalism at http://hippe-heisler.blogspot.co.uk. Website: www.hippe-heisler.de