Germany’s BDÜ Issues Position Paper on AI’s Impact on the Translation Profession

Germany Translator AI

On June 8, 2023, the Association of Professional Interpreters and Translators in Germany, the BDÜ, published a press release in which they stated that they do not view technological advances, including AI, machine translation (MT), and large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT, negatively.

In response to reports suggesting AI is making translators and interpreters redundant, the BDÜ makes it clear that this new era of technology is simply changing the market and how we work, and creating new or adapted job descriptions for language professionals.

The BDÜ outlines how and why humans are and will still be required despite the multifarious tools and technologies that have appeared over recent years and which continue to advance.

For instance, people are required to deploy technology and check output for inaccuracies and hallucinations. Qualified professionals know how, when, and under what conditions AI and MT systems can be meaningfully and efficiently used, and where errors are likely to occur, the BDÜ says.

According to the BDÜ, one of the main issues is that these systems view sentences / parts of text as independent, unrelated segments causing errors. Therefore, to avoid harming people, property, or the reputation of businesses or individuals, human-in-the-loop workflows are required. They also cite other risks around data protection, copyright of texts used for training, and ethics.

The Evolving Job Market

The German association criticizes reports which exclusively attribute decreasing numbers of translators and interpreters to the rise of technology and AI, such as a May 2023 Politico article stating, “High-tech machines that can run through Eurocratic jargon at record speed have replaced hundreds of translators working for the EU”.

The Politico piece suggests the number of permanently employed translators in the EU institutions has decreased by 400 between 2014 and 2023. The BDÜ, however, highlights that in the same period roughly 700 new jobs were created. As such, it is simply the case that not all the new positions were filled; translators have not been replaced by AI.

They identified other reasons for lower numbers of translators as people retiring or wanting a career change, an increasing number of contracts being given to external providers, and a Europe-wide challenge affecting the recruitment of young people.

AI & MT are Unavoidable

The BDÜ’s opposition is not to automation tools, technological developments, or digitization. On the contrary, they conclude that the only way to cover the volume and the types of work requested within the timeframes and financial constraints imposed is to employ MT and AI; they are unavoidable.

What the BDÜ condemns is the impact these tools have had leading to unfavorable market conditions and unreasonable scopes of work for specialist translators and interpreters. They perceive a threat to the established way of working for freelancers and the self-employed and believe the tasks expected of translators and interpreters have become more complicated.

As a result, the BDÜ calls on businesses, the industry, public institutions, and political actors to ensure sustainable and fair working conditions that are aligned with the current professional reality and appropriate remuneration. This should apply to both employed and freelance translators and interpreters. They also advocate for the necessary groundwork, commercially and politically, to enable independent entrepreneurship so freelancers can work on reasonable terms.