Translating in a Digital Age

The huge impact that AI is having on many walks of life and most industry sectors is hard to ignore. Many people now have access to vast amounts of information via the smartphones in their pockets. In fact, automated translations have been accessible for a long time; however, this has not replaced the need for human translations. 

At AaGlobal, we have provided high-quality and trustworthy interpreting services and translations for over 30 years. With our experience of translation services in the UK, we cannot deny the effect of AI technologies on our industry. So, how do interpreting and translation agencies respond to this era of fast digital progression?

Are computers taking over? 

Artificial intelligence has long been part of science fiction but has become part of science FACT over recent years. AI has been at the centre of many conversations recently, but this is not a new development by any means. 

Artificial intelligence has been suggested in books as far back as the 19th century. Samuel Butler’s novel, ‘Erewhon’, published in 1872, proposes machine consciousness. Movies have long loved the idea of AI. Films like ‘Metropolis’ (1927) and Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece ‘2001: a Space Odyssey’ (1968), with the frightening HAL 9000, famously depicted autonomous machines. So, this idea of computers with independent thought is not a new one. 

It feels like AI has come on leaps and bounds in a very short space of time. Technology, in general, is developing at a faster rate than ever before. However, when we consider the impact on translation agencies, we should remember that Google Translate was launched in 2006. So, people have had access to translation applications for nearly 20 years, and we have seen how automated translations aren’t accurate. 

In November 2022, we saw the launch of ChatGPT, which has remained at the forefront of many conversations ever since. Over the last year and a half, many people have discussed whether applications like ChatGPT could take over people’s jobs. Last week (May 2024), ChatGPT launched GPT-4o, which has a wide range of new features, including live translations. Could this have an even more detrimental effect on interpreting and translation services in the UK?

Is AI up to the job? 

We’ve already inferred that previous experience has shown that automated translations are not precise. Despite the development and improvements made with GPT-4o, there is still no replacement for human interpreting. Our Business Development Manager, Chantelle Akdemir, points out, “I’m sure that simple chats like getting directions from the hotel to the beach can be translated easily enough. However, AI cannot deal with the intricate real-world events discussed during business conferences.”

We also cannot forget that we are still talking about machines, and humans are a strange breed with strange habits. Numerous tests have been carried out, and the differences between human and AI translation are still worlds apart. 

Our language is so finely nuanced; even more than that, every language has its own quirks. “No robot can yet figure out the difference between us Brits having “our tea” or someone making a hot drink’, says Chantelle, “and our language is full of even more nuances like that.”

How safe are AI translations?

There are many considerations when looking for translations for whatever service you need. Obviously, accuracy is the most important factor. However, there is even more to think about when looking at your options for translation services. 

Translations take many forms and require a range of complexity. When we consider technical translations or legal translations, accuracy is imperative.  There is no room for error when translating a training document or technical user manual. In addition to the importance of accuracy, when working on legal or certificate translation services, these often require authorisation or notarising by legal professionals. A professional translator has to swear that they have completed a translation; this provides a level of guarantee unachievable with AI. 

Many interpreting and translation agencies, like AaGlobal, work with sensitive clients like social services and legal practices. The work in these industries is often personal and complicated and comes with security concerns. There are many GDPR considerations when using third-party applications like ChatGPT to translate sensitive documents.

Is there room for AI?

So, is there a place for artificially generated translations in the industry? It would be unwise to say that there is no possible use for AI translation. As we’ve mentioned, basic translation is absolutely possible with applications like Google Translate or ChatGPT. In fact, we have to acknowledge that people of different languages being able to communicate with each other instantly has to be a good thing, right?

Is AI likely to take over and risk the jobs of thousands of linguists around the world? Our opinion is, no, certainly not for the time being. However, let’s look at some real-world examples of technology and its impact on the work environment. 

During the industrial revolution in the UK in the 18th century, it was feared that machines would take jobs away from the manual workforce. However, the opposite proved to be the case. As factories were manufacturing more products, they needed more staff to deal with the increased business. The same can be said of interpreting and translation services. As technology increases, companies are finding their operations expanding into foreign markets, meaning more digital content needs translating. We have many clients that require websites to be translated and localised into other languages. Or companies need business manuals or documents translating for foreign offices to enable them to export for example. 

It is clear that on a rudimentary level, AI is useful in helping us understand other languages, but that’s not the whole story. It is important to realise that there are practical and security limitations to AI technology in our industry.

AI and Chat-GPT can be used to support the work we do. However, AI will not replace the human interaction that proves to be indispensable when dealing with technical translations or sensitive conversations. 

AaGlobal’s reliable language people

Business Development Manager Chantelle Akdemir says, “We are aware of the impact that AI is having on our industry, and we are not ignoring it. 

“We will embrace technology that helps our translators, but we will not replace them. AI technology must be used sensibly and thoughtfully to help our translators whilst maintaining our high-quality service commitment to our clients.”

Chantelle continues, “Our human touch ensures that our translations are accurate and embrace the cultural differences that make us unique”. 

If you need help translating documents or interpreting at your appointments, contact our friendly team today.

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