Who's afraid of Artificial Intelligence?
The impact of Artificial Intelligence or AI on the current and future labor markets has received intensive media coverage in the recent past; from Mark Zuckerberg who introduced us to Jarvis, his personal AI assistant, to Tesla’s Elon Musk who advocated the need for a universal basic income as robots take over jobs. Undeniably, technology will be changing the economic landscape in the coming decades, if not years. How relevant is that to the translation industry? Are we translators soon going to be out of jobs?
Despite all the doomsday predictions, a number of elements tend to get omitted from this discussion. Although high-tech company CEOs have become the new gurus of the 21st century, we need to remember that the economy has become such a complex entity that no one person can lay claim to absolute knowledge, let alone make such sweeping predictions about its future with such confidence. The latest political events in America and Europe arguably are testimonies that the new reality is something that most analysts did not even fathom a few years ago. We also need to acknowledge that historically speaking, technological trends never emerge unconditionally. The political and social landscapes are always determinants that cannot be simply cast aside. In short, stating the fact that technology will be capable of doing most jobs currently performed by human beings does not, by any stretch of the imagination mean that robots will replace human beings in all areas where robots can actually be as efficient has human beings. If that was the logic that drove the world, we would have solved world hunger a long time ago because the capabilities to feed every single human being on earth is an undeniable fact. Cashiers would also have become an obsolete job category a long time ago as the technology to checkout pretty much any consumer item on supermarket shelves have existed for some time now.
We should be careful not to confuse the potential behind AI and its application in the real world, which is conditional to a variety of factors.
Professional translation services can currently be offered solely by professional translators. Google translation has come a long way but is not in a position to translate complex texts accurately, let alone with the kind of creativity needed in localization services or when translating marketing texts. A clear distinction must be made between the translation of words required to accomplish mundane tasks and the level of complexity translators and interpreters deal with a on a daily basis. Has the era where official delegations or CEOs of multinational companies finally switch to unsupervised machine translations and interpretations finally arrived? Are companies and governments ready to rely on machines to deliver their message to customers and citizens in a world where even university professors feel the need to protect themselves against lawsuits from unhappy students? We very much doubt it.
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