On October 4, 2023, over 150 language industry leaders gathered in the beautiful city of Zurich, the headquarters for Slator, to share their insights and network with peers at SlatorCon 2023. The day’s agenda included presentations about economic indicators and language industry investment trends, language technology and changing roles, LLMs, workflow automation, the essential expert-in-the-loop, technology breakout sessions, four panel discussions, and much more.
The conference started with a surprise opening, featuring Slator’s own Co-founder and Commercial Director Andrew Smart as the subject of a video produced by rask.ai, showcasing AI for multilingual dubbing and lip-syncing. The video gathered applause and set the mood right for what was a day of productive and positive discussions about current and future key developments in the language industry and the path ahead.
After Smart introduced attendees to the day’s agenda and brought them up to date as to Slator activities and offerings, he welcomed on stage Florian Faes, Slator Co-founder and Managing Director.
Faes’ titled presentation, “A Most Consequential Year,” touched on the main topics of the conference, which included the emergence of language AI as a product, went over a quick industry health check, touched on how investments have contracted in the M&A space and have migrated to the language AI technology sector. He closed with an overview of the opportunities still available for service providers, buyers and technology partners, the multiple existing and potential use cases for LLMs, and what might be the way forward for the industry.
The keynote presentation was given by Ian El-Mokadem, CEO of RWS Group. El-Mokadem spoke about the pressure being felt across the language provider cohort to evolve and adapt in the face of economic contexts, talent challenges, and AI. In what can be described as making the case for the relevance of LSPs, he began by reminding the audience of the explosion in content generation, and the expectation for it to continue growing exponentially.
El-Mokadem summed up how companies that embrace innovation and tailor business models for efficient scalability have an opportunity to also grow. Humans remain as central to any of those efforts as AI dominates the conversation, including linguists. “Goodbye, translators. Hello, language specialists,” added the RWS CEO, emphasizing that the global explosion of digital content means that translators “must expertly localize communications across media formats, cultural contexts and regulatory frameworks.”
Darin Goble, Head of Solutions & Solutions Engineering at Welocalize, walked attendees through Welocalize’s perspective beyond the many cycles and changes brought about by technologies like MT, LLMs and AI, focusing instead on a digital transformation, i.e., the changes that lead to innovation and where technologies actually help ensure the evolution of today’s language industry companies.
“Companies are embracing experimentation more than ever, unburdening their teams to accept the successes (or the failures) by way of experimentation,” said Goble, encouraging LSPs to experiment and innovate.
Delving a little deeper into the technical side of current technology, Sheila Castilho, Assistant Professor and Programme Chair at Dublin City University, took the stage to explain to attendees how a consistent evaluation of LLMs is critical to fully understand their capacity, limitations, and risks. The main takeaway from Dr. Castilho’s presentation was that even when fine-tuned and appropriately prompted, LLMs like GPT can fail at translating accurately.
Some of the challenges Dr. Castilho honed in included gender and other biases in the training data, inconsistencies in translations across language pairs, and the need for substantial computational resources (with consequences for the environment) to train and fine-tune the models.
Language Technology as Opportunity
Keeping in with the overarching topic of AI and LLMs, and as a suitable complement to the morning presentations, the first afternoon panel presentation reunited several technology companies to discuss “SaaS in language AI and tech.” The panel, moderated by Florian Faes, included Céline Daley, VP Customer Success at DeepL, André Bastié, CEO & Co-founder of Happy Scribe, and Jan Cizmar, Founder & CEO of Tolgee.
The topics included ways to find product-market fit, selecting technology amid a sea of offers, strategies for entering new markets, and based on some questions asked during the morning sessions, ways to scale within any of these primary business practices.
A second panel discussion, moderated by Anna Wyndham, Slator’s Head of Research, gathered Roeland Hofkens, Chief Product & Technology Officer (CPTO) at LanguageWire, Fabian Fahlbusch, Head of Content, Busch Vacuum Solutions, and Alex Coope, Director of Globalization Deployment at ServiceNow.
The panel’s discussion centered around ways to leverage existing linguistic assets, including translation memories, emerging applications, and managing the risks associated with LLMs when it comes to security and data privacy. The panel closed with a discussion of the future of LLMs, particularly when it comes to the issue of quality evaluation and multilingual content generation.In his presentation, Gion Linder, Head of Accessibility Services at SWISS TXT, showed how the USD 70m service provider ensures access for all audiences for Switzerland’s public broadcaster SRF. Linder laid out a matrix of what content types are suitable for automation and how SWISS TXT is running tests on new technologies. Linder also touched on the challenges of measuring quality and operating in a low-resource language like Romansh.
New Opportunities and Investor’s Faith in the Language Industry
The third panel, on emerging markets, was moderated by Andrew Smart, and brought together Near- and Middle East language experts Nour Al Hassan, CEO at Tarjama, Blanca Pinero-Canovas, Director of the Language and Documentation Services Division at the World Trade Organization, and Beatriz Verdasco, Head of Localization at Trendyol Group.
The panelists focused on well-established needs and challenges surrounding the geographic areas they represent. They concurred on how when it comes to actually enabling content to and from the many variants of Arabic, for example, and for the many partners of thriving Turkish companies, there is both a growing opportunity and a continuous struggle to find both talent and technical solutions to take advantage of said opportunity.
The final panel was moderated by Esther Bond, Head of Advisory at Slator, and reunited Markus Zejermann, Managing Director at Mayfair Equity Partners, and Fernando Chueca, Managing Director at Carlyle.
The discussion highlighted how investment firms continue to invest in the language industry and the panelists shared with the audience not just what sparked the interest of investors at the times of acquisitions of large injections of capital in the past year, but also how the time is now for the language industry to take control of, and command the next generation of LLM-based technology and associated services, and not let it go to large consulting firms who are not the experts at it.
Additional sessions featured briefings by technology providers AcudocX, Rask AI, Sintetic.ai, and XL8, who showcased how their solutions can complement and expand the offering for language services providers and localization users.
Image: Ian El-Mokadem, CEO, RWS