American Translators Association Issues Statement on Artificial Intelligence

American Translators Association Issues Statement on Artificial Intelligence

The American Translators Association (ATA) has issued a statement on artificial intelligence in the language industry.

“ATA believes it is important for everyone involved in language services to understand the potential and pitfalls of artificial intelligence, as well as the transformative impact it is having on the T&I professions,” ATA tweeted by way of introduction.

The organization released the statement on November 8, 2023, less than two weeks after ATA’s October 2023 annual conference, held in Miami. A significant portion of sessions focused on technology, from machine translation and tech-enhanced translation quality management to large language models and generative AI. More specifically, sessions for interpreters touched on live captioning, machine dubbing, and ChatGPT

“Translators and interpreters […] are a step ahead when it comes to language AI,” ATA asserted, citing the profession’s exposure to MT beginning in 2016. “As a result, they have developed creative ways to integrate [MT] into their toolkits while simultaneously coming to terms with its shortcomings.”

The statement contrasted instances in which “automated translation” has already proved a helpful tool for human translators in high-stakes situations that require human involvement. 

ATA suggested that, as use of this technology becomes more ubiquitous, transparency about “AI-generated translations, with appropriate disclaimers about the potential for suboptimal results,” is essential. ATA recommended consulting language professionals to ensure that such tools are used appropriately.

On social media the reactions seemed supportive of the statement, with over 60 people giving a thumbs up on LinkedIn and dozens of likes and reposts on Facebook and Twitter. Those who took time to comment, however, were less thrilled, with one commenter describing the statement as “very wishy-washy.”

“I think there are two things at work, looking out for corporate members and not wanting to bring bad news to paying individual members,” wrote another observer. He added. “[I]t does not serve the interests of translators to dance around the issue and just talk about how good or bad AI is, including a claim that translators are leading the way.”

Opinions within ATA itself are diverse, as is to be expected of an organization representing thousands of members, and reflected as well in another comment: “Just a note that the ATA Language Technology Division wishes we had been consulted on this statement.”

As for ATA, the organization promised to “continue to pursue its mission of promoting the value of translators and interpreters as the essential component in all multilingual processes,” and encouraged members and other stakeholders to check its website regularly for updates.