Human Translators and AI Translation: Two Visions of the Future

Human Translators and AI Translation: Two Visions of the Future

One vision of the future of the language sector is one in which the goal is automation (fully automatic translation), regardless of the use case. I will call this vision the “Always Full Automation” perspective. A colleague of mine has suggested the tongue-in-cheek acronym AWFull (AlWays Full automation) for this vision. No bias there!

A contrasting vision is one in which the goal is automation in some uses and augmentation of the capabilities of human translators, without replacing them, in other use cases. I will call this vision the “Use Case Sensitive” vision.

We do not yet know which of these visions will dominate a decade from now. No one does. But it is our choice how to proceed in the world of translation, regarding augmentation and automation.

If your personal vision is compatible with the Use Case Sensitive vision of the future, then please consider joining me at the FIT North America NextGen conference in Monterey, California, in early October. See the NextGen conference website for details.

If you are thinking about attending the LocWorld50 conference in San Jose, which will take place right after the NextGen conference, please consider arriving a few days early for NextGen. Then, we will show you the way from Monterey to San Jose.

Automation in the World of Translation

Full automation in our world means delivering raw machine translation output directly to the end user. No post-editing or any other human involvement once the machine translation system has been trained.

It is sometimes assumed that full automation in every use case should be the goal. This dates back to the early days of machine translation when the goal was FAHQT (fully automatic high-quality translation) of every source text you care to feed into the machine. No attention to use case. Anything less indicates failure.

However, there is another way to approach automation, an approach that adds augmentation to the mix.

Augmentation in the World of Translation

In 2015, well before generative AI captured the world’s imagination, the global consulting firm Deloitte published a paper titled “Redesigning Work in an Era of Cognitive Technologies”. In this paper, the authors suggest that attempting to replace a person with a fully automated process is not always the best business strategy. Instead, technology can be used to augment the capabilities of a human. This notion of augmentation is found in much current thinking by economists and executives, along with risk management professionals. The NextGen conference will expand on how technology could augment the capabilities of professional human translators, when full automation is too risky. Think outside the box of post-editing. Augmentation wide open.

For some jobs, the question is binary: replace humans or augment their capabilities. When it comes to professional human translators, the question is far from binary. There are many use cases. In some, such as translating post-discharge instructions for hospital patients with limited English proficiency or translating European Union legislation, augmenting the capabilities of a human translator is clearly the way to go. In other cases, such as translating items in a rapidly changing database of tech support articles or pre-trial triage of foreign-language documents for relevance, a fully automated approach has been successful, selectively followed by human translation.

The NextGen Conference in Monterey

The NextGen conference is being organized by the North America regional center of the International Federation of Translators. It will be a gathering of people who believe there should be another generation of translators and other language professionals. People who want to collaborate to make it happen. Educators and Industry leaders will exchange views on what the next generation of students need to know to enter the work force better prepared. How do we entice talented young people to choose translation or interpreting as a career? How do we provide internships for them during their education?

The NextGen conference will not be limited to the major languages in North America (French, Spanish, and English). Far from it. There will be a plenary session focused on Indigenous languages and the need for trained community interpreters, especially for healthcare and justice.

The opening session will start at 6 pm on Thursday, October 5th, followed by dinner in small groups of people who do not yet know each other. Friday will be a sequence of plenary presentations. Saturday there will be four parallel sessions. Sunday is left open to explore the beautiful Monterey Bay area on your own if you can stay. On Monday, October 9th, we will have an activity that includes a boat excursion and a send-off to those who will be continuing on to LocWorld50, only an hour’s drive away.

Regardless of whether you are familiar with the 1968 classic song “Do you know the way to San Jose”, please visit the LocWorld50 page and listen to the original lyrics composed and performed by the up-and-coming artist, Sophie Blair, using the 1968 notes, to which we have applied for a non-exclusive license. Who says translation conferences can’t be fun? Sophie’s lyrics even include a subtle reference to an alternative conference more in line with the Always Full Automation vision of the future. Regardless of your vision of the future, human language is amazing, and we can all be friends.

Please join us in Monterey for the NextGen conference!

NextGen registration

Alan Melby, Certified Translator, PhD, Chair of FIT North America
Mobile number for WhatsApp and Telegram : +1 801 360-0703


Schatsky, David, and Jeff Schwartz. 2015. “Redesigning Work in an Era of Cognitive Technologies.” Deloitte Review, 17: 4–21.