Forget worrying about machine translation

Machine translation has always reminded me of the zombies in Dawn of the Living Dead: really scary looking, and if one catches you then you know it'll eat your brains, but the thing moves slower than my grandpa without his walker. There's no way it'll ever catch up to us.

If you're a science fiction fan, then forget about traditional MT: we've officially got a new existential bugbear for the translation industry.

Artificial brain '10 years away'

If they're right, then in 10 years the game will well and truly be up for us translators. Give it maybe 10 more years until it's cheaper to rent out a simulated brain than a meat brain… I'll be 58 then, just shy of a full career as a translator.

Long before then, people and computers will likely assume much more collaborative roles in translation.

Will scientists succeed at simulating the human brain? I remain skeptical, especially because 10 years seems like a very short time given our current state of the art. But I won't discount the possibility entirely, and 10 years isn't too long to wait and see if they're right.

In any case, it looks like the times are going to get very interesting for translators (and everybody else)! I can't wait to see this TED talk.

3 comments to Forget worrying about machine translation

  • newb

    I plan on taking JLPT 1 next July and become a freelance translator. I’ve been following your blog since February. I have 2 questions. One is, based on what you wrote above, I assume it is safe to say it is not too late to get into J2E translation based on competion from computers. My second question is whether it is too late to get into translation based on competition from humans? Is the J2E profession saturated or oversaturated, or is there still room?

  • @newb

    Good luck on your test! I think that there is still plenty of J2E work. When I go to IJET conferences, I meet hundreds of translators who all seem to be earning enough for a decent living. (At least, they can afford to travel to conferences!)

    I wouldn’t worry about the machines at all. I think that by the time machines can take over translation, they’ll be able to take over just about any kind of brain work. Maybe the last bastions will be ethical/moral thinking, but things like translation, brain surgery, and janitorial work are much of a muchness in terms of the intelligence needed.

  • newb

    Thanks for the encouraging news! And, hopefully by the time I become a translator, I’ll do a better job of editing for spelling than I did in my first post.

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