French Translators Society Takes Tough Stance on AI Translation, GenAI

French Translators Society Takes Tough Stance on AI Translation, GenAI

The Société française des traducteurs (SFT), a French union for professional translators and interpreters, has released a statement on the use of AI translation and GenAI.

The SFT published the statement in mid-June 2024, following a survey of members between November-December 2023, and now encourages all professionals — members and the unaffiliated alike — to share the statement. (The SFT reported 1,648 members as of June 2020.)

The statement acknowledges that the translation industry has already been impacted by major technological upheavals; namely, the introduction of neural machine translation (MT) in 2016. Since then, clients and language service providers (LSPs) alike have largely adopted this technology.

Still, the statement posits, that the output [of machine translation] remains unreadable in its raw state, and requires humans to correct it via post-editing: “But 70% of our member translators who responded to our survey considered PE (and by extension AI) a threat to their profession.”

More specifically, the SFT calls for the respect of human expertise and strongly recommends against replacing human language experts with AI tools, particularly in high-stakes scenarios. 

The statement zooms out beyond the language industry to call for greater transparency regarding the source of data used to train large language models (LLMs) and insists that translators should be considered the “creators” of translated content, vested with the corresponding rights to their final products.

This should also extend to translators’ and interpreters’ ability to benefit from LLM and AI services accordingly — an especially touchy subject among language professionals who say they have seen their rates decrease in recent years. 

The SFT warns that unfettered access to AI tools, such as ChatGPT, could contribute to a drop in respect for language professionals, or else an “unchecked rush of translations that we are asked to enhance.”

This concern hints at a paradox: The SFT says that at the same time that university translation and interpreting programs struggle to attract students, a flood of AI-generated output will require a human in the loop to rework it.

“If GenAI is considered an assistant to support human expertise, we are not opposed to its integration in our practice,” the statement reads, “but in no case as a replacement for professionals, or without great oversight.” 

The SFT explicitly calls on government bodies to set an example by prioritizing the use of human translators and interpreters for its own needs, and by withholding funds for projects mostly using GenAI.

While the SFT is based in France, the organization, founded in 1947, is also a founding member of the International Federation of Translators (FIT). 

The SFT’s statement follows public takes by other groups, such as the European Council of Literary Translators’ Association, the UK’s Chartered Institute of Linguists, and the American Translators Association.

More recently, the Japan Association of Translators released a bilingual statement declaring AI translation “extremely unsuitable” for manga.