Translation platforms cannot replace humans

28th April 2017

We recently wrote about how translation platforms cannot replace humans, in an article entitled The Great A.I. snoozing, and highlighted the fact that despite all of the promises and media hype, free translation platforms and services still can’t compete with human translators.

It seem that The Economist has picked up on this with their own article that echoes the same sentiment – while useful, translation platforms cannot replace humans!

Google Translate

Free translation is useful when trying to underrated the gist of something

While free translation platforms and services, such as Bing or Google Translate can be useful to the casual reader, the technology powering things behind the scenes is still a long way off from perfection. The Economist article concentrates on the translation of Arabic newspapers in to English, and while concedes that on the whole, Google does a fairly good job, serious mistakes still occur.

Problems seem to creep in when Google attempts to translate more complex languages, such as Chinese or Hebrew in to English. As the articles states – ‘Google Translate does still occasionally garble sentences. The introduction to a Haaretz story in Hebrew had text that Google translated as: “According to the results of the truth in the first round of the presidential elections, Macaron and Le Pen went to the second round on May 7. In third place are Francois Peyon of the Right and Jean-Luc of Lanschon on the far left.” If you don’t know what this is about, it is nigh on useless. But if you know that it is about the French election, you can see that the engine has badly translated “samples of the official results” as “results of the truth”.’

Human translators still provide the best accuracy

One of the hurdles that machine translation will have to overcome is the fact that a language is a living entity that constantly changes and redefines itself over time. The English spoken today is not the English spoken by Shakespeare, nor is it the English more recently spoken by our grandparents. World events, technology and various sub-cultures have the effect of creating and defining new words and slang terms that make their way in to common usage. While Google might be able to index and provide search results for the hundreds of thousands of memes on the internet, it will have a hard time trying to put many of them into context when attempting to translate them in to a foreign language.

This is where human linguists still outshine their mechanical counterparts. As professional linguists are engaged with their mother tongue and own culture on a twenty four hour, seven days a week basis, they are able to adapt and absorb subtle changes in language use , which therefore means their translation will reflect the modern parlance used in any given country or territory.

As discussed previously, while Google et al will no doubt iron out the gremlins, at some point in the future, machine learning and artificial intelligence still has some way to go before it can really understand how humans use language and how it adapts and evolves, rather than simply trying to match a sentence to its foreign language equivalent.

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