Why Anja Jones Put Social Responsibility at the Core of Her Language Service Provider

SlatorPod #200 - Anja Jones on Social Responsibility as an LSP

In the landmark 200th episode of the SlatorPod, we are joined by Anja Jones, Managing Director of AJT, to talk about the language service provider’s (LSP’s) journey to becoming a B Corp, a certification for businesses balancing profit with social and environmental responsibility.

Anja touches upon the impact of large language models (LLMs), expressing concerns about ethical implications, copyright issues, and the environmental footprint associated with LLMs. She also discusses how a focus on the intricacies of European culture became their USP.

When it comes to using AI in translation, Anja highlights that certain content types, such as marketing texts and transcreation, are still best handled by human translators due to the need for creativity and cultural sensitivity.

The podcast shifts towards the need for regulation in the language AI industry. Anja points out the ethical implications of AI-generated content, particularly in scenarios like voice synthesis and deep fake technologies.

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Anja also talks about winning the 2023 ATC Ethical Business award, attributing it to their commitment to fair pay, transparent communication, and creating opportunities for new translators.

Anja shares the LSP’s plans for 2024, which include focusing on collaborations with value-aligned businesses, including sustainable fashion brands and companies leveraging AI for personalized Google Ads.

Transcript

Florian: Today on the podcast, we have Anja Jones. So Anja is the Managing Director of AJT, a B Corp certified language service provider. So, can you talk a little bit about your professional journey in the language industry? Like, what led you to start your own LSP, your own kind of personally branded LSP at that as well?

Anja: I grew up in Germany, and then I came to the UK in 2000, and I basically studied Linguistics and French at Sussex Uni. And then afterwards, I’m probably like one of the typical LSP owners that I started out as a freelance translator, find my way in the industry, and I was translating from English to German. So that was in 2010, and then, yeah, over the years, the company has grown quite organically, and today we are a team of 15 in-house employees dotted across most of the UK and some of us a little bit further afield in Europe. And then we have a team of around about 300 freelance translators that we work with on a very regular basis. So, yeah, I kind of came in sideways from linguistics, but I’ve always had a real love for languages, so translation seemed like a natural step for me.

Florian: What was your original kind of special field in English to German? Because that’s my origin as well, I mean, I was also an English German translator originally. So what was your specialty?

Anja: So after I finished my uni course, I moved to Cornwall to surf, basically. Very first off, I just took a job as an administrator because there weren’t really any language jobs there. And then I had this bright idea that I would be like a tourism translator and I even got some postcards printed to send to hotels, and it didn’t really go very far at all. So then I registered on ProZ, and then essentially I wanted to start out in tourism, but it’s kind of very quickly developed into a very industry agnostic translation company. So we do a bit of all sorts, from supporting manufacturers to B2B tech to skincare, all sorts of stuff, so quite broad in that sense.

Florian: Originally, was it the classic origin story of an LSP where you were taking on a lot of work personally as a freelancer? It got kind of overloaded because you did so well and then you started handing it to your friends and connections and then kind of started to go corporate that way or?

Anja: It couldn’t be more typical to be fair. Yeah, I started out as a translator and know someone would, oh, could you do French as well? And then I was like, hello, Sarah, I heard you wanted to get into translation. Yeah, and so, yeah, it kind of went from being the Translator to being the Editor to being the Project Manager and now the MD. So, I mean, it’s tragic really, but I haven’t translated probably in about 10 years. So you get taken away from that, from what you actually started out doing as the company grows and you have to look after everyone as well.

Florian: Which one did you find the most challenging transition? I mean, the PM, the financing corporation. Which part was particularly difficult?

Anja: I think employing people, especially because we’re based in a lovely seaside town called Newquay on the North Coast of Cornwall, but we employ in-house translators, so people would come and we take them in straight out of university. That’s one of the big things we want to do as a company, is to create pathways for people to enter the industry in a really safe and collaborative way, so we offer graduate positions to translators. But they were joining us from France and from Germany and I think I found the bit of looking after everyone, all of a sudden, it’s a big step for someone to move country to come to your company. So I felt like very personally responsible for everyone’s well being as well as career progression. That was quite a big step for me.

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Florian: What led you to employ translators in-house and still employ them in-house? Because obviously a lot of the industry is just purely freelancer based, so where do you see the upside in that?

Anja: I think it’s kind of two things there. The one is that there’s always that really, that chicken and egg situation in our industry, right? So we have a lot of graduates who come straight out of university and then it’s straight into freelancing and that’s terrifying and also really tricky to get a foothold in the industry without kind of really underselling yourself or kind of maybe being exposed to some exploitative practices because everyone wants to have an experienced translator to work on their content, but no one will give you the opportunity to actually gain that experience. So we wanted to kind of break that chicken and egg situation and actually provide entry level opportunities. And at the same time, we just always had, like, a really steady flow of work for English to German, English to French, enough to actually allow us to employ people in-house. And it’s always been part of our story, I guess, and we’ve had lots of interns who’ve also joined us for internships in our office. And now that we’re fully remote, we do remote internships, so yeah, it’s a big part of that.

Florian: So you mentioned that you’re very diversified in terms of kind of sector and text type coverage, but just give us maybe two or three kind of client case studies that really kind of convey what you do for your clients.

Anja: One case study might be Substack. Have you heard of them as a company? So they’re kind of a tech brand, essentially, that’s kind of really grown big since COVID and they’re a platform for independent writers who want to build a more direct relationships with their readership and kind of not be influenced so much by Google algorithms and ad spend. And they contacted us last year because they wanted to start expanding into the European market. So that’s what we specialize in, essentially, we’re specialists in the European marketplace. And so they contacted us, and we started off with setting up style guides and glossaries for the main European markets, and then we also translated landing pages for them to test out those new markets. And they’d already translated their app strings for the actual Substack app into German, and so we then did the review of their strings for German before they pushed it out into the market. So that’s one example and quite exciting, because hopefully this will be a client that will be able to accompany over the coming years as they grow their presence in the European market. And then another one might be Nelsons, so they are the UK’s largest manufacturer of natural care products. So you may or may not know these kind of drops called Rescue Remedy, and they basically are very calming for you, so lots of herbal remedies and stuff, and they’re a really big brand. They have been around for many, many years, and they’re launching a new product into the French market. And so we’re helping them with everything that you can think of around translating and localizing stuff for the French market from the materials for the distributors and the stockists, point of sales displays that need to be localized, all the way to then creating the ads for Google and social media to then help push that product in the new market. So that’s just in a nutshell, kind of two products, one very techie and one very physical product.

Florian: And also quite consultative for both. Probably even more for Nelsons than for Substack, where you help them almost with market entry services and cultural consulting type of work.

Anja: Yeah, we sort of see ourselves as that guiding hand into uncharted territory. So I think translation really is just one part of that. I think as translators, we’re often also kind of cultural advisors, I guess, and also can’t remember who said it on LinkedIn the other day, international risk managers, which I think is a really good way of putting it. We’ve done stuff like competitor analysis, and we also do keyword research for individual markets and then the whole transcreation side and desktop publishing. So we’re not like a full service agency, so we don’t do voiceovers, for example. But I think we’ve got a good offering there to support customers who want to go into the European market.

Florian: And you mentioned Substack’s landing page. When I go to your own landing page, there’s the so-called hero statement, and it says, ‘culturally nuanced translation services for purpose-driven businesses in the European market’. And what I like about it is LSPs have this tendency, at least on their website, to want to offer everything to everyone, because they’re sometimes afraid that if they don’t put the life sciences and the software localization sub page there, that they’re going to kind of limit themselves in terms of what business they generate leads from. But you quite specifically limit yourself to the European market, for example, and the culturally nuanced, kind of gives a specific message as well. Tell me a bit more about that thought process there and did you find that it took a bit of courage to limit yourself to that and kind of zoom in on that angle or?

Anja: I think it took courage to go all European from just German, to be fair. I’m naturally quite a risk averse person, so when I first started it was just German, and then it felt like a huge step to offer English and French as well, and now we offer it for the entire European market. But, yeah, I think it’s one of those things. Sometimes when we do have like a company comes to us and they have like 16 languages, 15 are European and one is not, then we will take that extra language. It’s not like we don’t have the processes to do it, but I think we always think about how we add the most value to our clients and as a company we are truly European even though we’re UK-based. Actually, predominantly our team is from the EU, so we have German, French, Austrian and Polish, so we’re kind of well represented. So we are European at heart and I feel like that’s where we are the most confident at advising people. And when you think about other regions, I always feel like you don’t know what you don’t know, right? So whilst it’s perfectly possible for us to arrange like a Chinese translation of a website, there’s so much more that goes into localization that’s beyond just the written word. We don’t just swap out one word for another, but how people perceive colors, how websites are laid out, kind of differences in deference. Like there’s so much that goes into that cultural element that I’d feel really worried about when advising people around a culture or a region that I don’t know about. I think on the flip side, although sometimes, often it’s not so nice having to turn work away, I think it’s a way of differentiating ourselves a little bit as well and not being everything to everyone but having a true specialization.

Florian: Yeah, I think it makes sense. Now, in July, about one and a half years ago, or actually a little more AJT became a so called B Corporation. So when we did our research we found that you’re a B Corp certified and this is provided by a company called B Lab UK or I’m not sure if it’s even a company or some type of association. So A, what is a B Corporation in the UK? And can you tell us a bit more about the company or organization that does the certifying.

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Anja: Absolutely, so yeah, so B Corp, for those listeners who don’t know, is essentially in very simple terms it’s a worldwide movement of businesses that are not just profit-driven but who balance profit with looking after people and planet as well. And it sounds maybe like a little bit hippy dippy if you’ve not heard of it before, but it’s essentially it’s moving to a more conscious capitalism model. And it was started in 2007 in the US, so it’s been around for quite a while, but since then it’s gained quite a lot of momentum and today there are over 6000 companies worldwide that have a B Corporation status and we’re in really good company because when you think about companies like Patagonia, Alpro, the soy milk manufacturer, Tony’s Chocolonely, the French fashion brand, Chloé, so there’s huge amount of recognizable brands who are B Corps as well. And I think it kind of shows that maybe businesses are starting to wake up to the fact that the kind of the outdated model of just chasing profits isn’t quite sustainable. Like, chasing profits is not the only thing we should be doing when we’re running a business. And so, yeah, so we started our journey to B Corp, as we like to call it, back in 2020. We were just celebrating our 10 year anniversary in business, and we’re doing a bit of soul searching and thinking about where we want to go next as a business, and B Corp struck us as a really a good next thing to aspire to. And part of that was that we’ve always thought of ourselves as a very ethical translation company. And gaining the B Corp certification was essentially a way for us to show to the world, to our clients, to our translators, and to our internal team that we really are who we say we. B Corp is managed by B Lab, so they’re an international, non-profit organization. And to become a B Corporation, you go through this self assessment process and there’s basically five different pillars you have to kind of get assessed on, so it’s workers, community, environment, customers, and governance. And so there is a huge set of questions you have to work through and you have to answer them. And each section has a number of points you can gain, and you need to get at least 80 points to become a B Corporation. And so we went on, like, a nine month journey to create 27 policies and kind of formalize some of the good things we were already doing in the company. But we benchmarked our salaries, we reviewed our paternal and maternal kind of policies, and we looked at how we can improve our environmental impact, so we set up like a green committee. So now we have people in the business who essentially drive better business practices around sustainability for our team. It took us nine months to prep, and then it took about a year to get assessed, and then we finally got the B Corp stamp in July 2022. Big moment for us.

Florian: Sounds like kind of an ISO certification times 10 X type of exercise, right?

Anja: Yeah, for sure, and it’s not like once you’ve got it, then you’re fine and you can just rest on your laurels. You have to submit an impact report once a year that shows everything you’ve done for the past year and what you’re planning to do for the next year. And then you recertify every three years, so there’s no time to rest, and you’re constantly pushing to become better and more sustainable, essentially.

Florian: Now, the language industry is probably one of the most competitive industries out there. 10,000 companies, probably globally, hundreds of thousands of freelancers, so much technology coming in. Now, are there kind of trade offs that you face? The point of this is not to be a profit generating exercise. Almost the opposite, right? So you’re trying to kind of balance the profit motive with ethical and other considerations, but you still have to run a business, you still have to make money to keep the company alive and grow and pay your staff. Now, are there real tangible business benefits from being a B Corp in the marketplace? Like on maybe some clients who prefer to do business with a B Corp, or do you see some type of marketing or branding value come from it?

Anja: I think it all starts from a place where you have to be the change you want to see in the world. I think that’s where it starts from. So for us, it was very much a personal mission to kind of get the certification because we wanted to see our personal values reflected in the work that we do. And when you take that a little bit further, it’s not just me, but it’s also all of our team, right? We’ve got a really young team, very engaged socially, politically, environmentally. And it’s really, really important for them to work for a company that cares about more than just profit, but that also cares about the environment and social justice and things like that. So it seems like a long way around, but actually, when you look after your people, like your internal team, but also the translators, and you pay fairly and you’re respectful, and you create better, more collaborative working environments, that actually has a knock on effect on the work that you produce because your translators produce better work, they’re more engaged with you, they want to stay with you because they enjoy working with you, which means you’re keeping and building that expertise on your clients products and services. So the tangible benefit is one that is actually, by treating people well, you actually produce better work, which means you’re attracting more clients and then you’re also attracting more value-aligned clients. I think that’s been a really positive thing for us. It’s something that I was really hoping would happen, but you’re never really sure if it actually is true or whether when it comes to choosing your translator, it’s just you go for the cheapest option. It’s so often the case, but we have found that since gaining the B Corp certification, we’ve been able to really demonstrate kind of our values and then have been able to attract other value-aligned clients which aren’t just buying on price, but who are also looking at their supply chain and saying, okay, we want everything to be ethical and everyone to be well looked after, and that’s pretty cool. So it doesn’t always help. Sure, there’s still going to be some people who just go like, oh, I just want the cheapest provider at the fastest pace and that’s it. But for us, yeah, I think the tangible benefit is like the retention of the team and then producing better work for clients and then with that attracting other clients as well.

Florian: You mentioned supply chain from the client side, but also your supply chain, let’s talk about that very briefly. Have you seen a shift over the past couple of years in terms of availability of top rate translators? And you said that it might help you with them paying very quickly and treating them fairly, et cetera. But just I want to get a feeling for kind of the state of the freelancer community out there that you’re seeing. Has tech brought, I don’t know, more availability, less availability? Have some of the more experienced ones left or what’s your sense there?

Anja: I think we’re in a bit of a state of crisis at the moment. I’m not going to lie. I think the feedback that we’ve had from our own translation community, and we have a very close-knit community, is that a lot of people are really worried. They’ve seen quite a huge drop in volume of work over the last year. It might not just be because of tech, it might also be the kind of international, kind of economic recession that’s been driving that to some extent. But yeah, we’ve seen a lot of people worried and looking at other industries and looking at reskilling, and it’s not a pretty picture. And for ourselves as well, I mean, 2022 wasn’t exactly a fantastic year. We got B Corp, but yeah, actually a lot of client work went away during that year. I think for us, being able to pay fairly, pay on time, being very transparent has definitely helped us retain the talent that we have got, but we are going that one step further. So just to give you a sense, so we have about 300 freelance translators. We have a Slack community where everyone is part of that, so we’ve always had a Slack community where we’ve had private channels so people could actually collaborate on projects together. But now we also have set up open channels so people can talk to each other very openly. Any freelancer with any other freelancer, which is kind of different to what most agencies do, where it’s all very hush-hush. No one wants to connect people together. And so we have channels where we have chit-chat, we have peer support, we have events going on. We do get a lot of kind of conversations going in our Slack community. And we have an AI channel just for AI, just to talk about, share some funny examples about what we come across in our work, but also share worries and things like that. But yeah, so we do hear a lot about people being really worried and having less work, so I’m sure we’ll talk about that a little bit later on as well.

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Florian: Yeah, tell us. In the language industry, we had the kind of the neural machine translation thing back in 2016, 17, and now like 18 months ago, ChatGPT came out. We all tested it, we played around with it, and now we’re trying to absorb what it actually means. What are you seeing from your client side, like short-term, mid-term impact? Is it as big as the NMT, I don’t know, evolution revolution currently for you?

Anja: It’s a really good question. Before I delve into it, I just want to say, as a provider, I love tech, and I think also as a company, we love tech and I think we love it, especially when it helps people get better at what they do, if it helps solve problems like diseases and climate crisis and social justice, so generally, we’re tech lovers. At the same time, I have a huge personal conflict when it comes to large language models. I think in the way that they have been developed, in the way that they’ve been deployed on society. It causes me huge headaches thinking about some of the ethical implications of how that data was collected, about copyright, intellectual property, but also the environmental footprint of large language models, right? So I think there’s a huge conflict of interest for me at the moment, because on the one side, of course, I don’t want our company to fall behind competitively. At the same time, I also feel like I need to be true to our values, our personal values, but also B Corp values, and not just kind of jumping on the bandwagon and go, whoo, yeah, let’s do this. I think there’s definitely that conflict of interest for us, but I think what we’ve seen, because we also do support some MLVs, so some large translation companies that have their own CAT tool environments, and that’s specifically where we’ve seen a huge shift of the traditional translation plus editing workflow, moving to AI translation plus human editing. And so there’s a huge chunk of work that has kind of disappeared from where there was two workflow steps, now there’s just the one. And I think we’re going to see more of that and that really we need to pose ourselves the questions like, what kind of future do we all want for each other? And we’re not alone in this. The translation industry isn’t unique in this respect. I think society at large is going to undergo some pretty extreme changes with the advent of large language models. I think it’s, what do we want to see? What do we want to see as the future for us, our translators? I don’t know. How do you feel about this? How do you feel about large language models and the developments?

Florian: It’s crazy. We now have machines that can write in multiple languages. I think that’s the shortest possible version. And that obviously is going to have or is already having a big impact on this industry and on many, many other industries, right? I mean, before that, all right, you had input and then output. Now you have prompt and output, so that’ll have a big impact. Now, I think in the short-term, probably is overhyped as usual, and then in the long-term there will be big ramifications. I think the whole language industry once again has to retool. But we’ve been through this before and we are trailblazing in that regard compared to many other industries. I mean, there’s so many, even like white collar intellectual professions that are nowhere near as far in that adoption curve as the language industry. We’re probably top two or three because as you just described, a lot of the workflows have already switched to basically being that human/expert-in-the-loop, so we’ve managed that and we’re still around. And these models, I mean, they’re good, but I don’t see a massive disruption in the next one or two years again. I mean, they’re so good already that whatever value the language industry puts on top of it is probably not going to go away in the next one or two years. Yeah, I mean, tough, but ahead of the curve when it comes to adoption. For you, people talk about this human-in-the-loop. We keep pushing at Slator, the kind of the term expert-in-the-loop, because I feel that a human is not enough anymore. I mean, you need to be an expert to add value to that output that you just described that you’re getting from these MLVs. Would you concur, is the output that you’re seeing really so good that only a true expert in the field can add value? Or do you feel like sometimes you’re still getting fairly raw output that anybody could add value to?

Anja: Do you know what? It seems to vary a huge amount based on content type. So sometimes things like DeepL or neural machine translation outperform AI translation. Other times AI translation is doing quite well and requires minimal changes. I think the expert really is not just linguistic, it’s also cultural expertise, and I think that’s the really important thing we need to remember. And I think CSA Research call it Human at the Core or Human at the Center, which I quite like only because anything where the human or the expert is just in the loop, it feels quite diminutive and kind of sidelining when actually translators do really play a massively important part in getting translations right for their end clients. So I feel putting them at the front and center of the translation universe or ecosystem feels more respectful and more dignified to me as well. And I think it’s quite funny because you see the rhetoric of some of the Big Tech players, and when they speak to their clients in their marketing communications, it almost feels like, oh, we barely even need the translators. This is all so automated and so fantastic, oh, just a light human touch. On the other side, vendor managers, are like ‘you’re really important to us’, and I think there’s a massive disconnect between. But as translators, we see that, we see both sides. We see you advertise there and then we see you speak to us here. So I feel like there needs to maybe a bit more mindful communication happening. But I also feel like this is an opportunity for us at the moment, maybe to change how we work together. I feel like we have this massive ecosystem of MLVs, LSPs, individual translators, but we’re not communicating, like we’re not really talking to each other. And often it can feel like if you’re an individual translator and you see these Big Tech companies pushing out these AI workflows where there’s barely any human involvement, that can feel really demotivating, and we don’t really want that brain drain for the translation industry. We do need to keep that expertise, the linguistic expertise, but the cultural expertise within our ecosystem. So if we have a shared understanding that translators are really, really important for our industry, then I feel like maybe we all need to come together and talk about what we envisage the future of translators to look like. And how can we create a future where translators feel valued, they feel engaged, and work is joyful because no one wants to be just an AI janitor. That’s not sexy. That’s not fun, right? But communication is where it starts for me and I think given that we’re in the business of communication, maybe we can do a little better in that respect.

Florian: It’s a tough one. I’m also speaking to some universities, and they’re struggling attracting students because, like a 20-year-old, well, do I go into translation, right? While these apps have been around for five years and now we have AI, so they don’t really see a great future. So there’s also a bit of relabeling going on. I mean, RWS’s CEO is saying it’s language experts, no longer translators, so maybe just call it a different thing, but the essential skills remain the same. Yeah, I’m a little worried that we’re losing maybe some of the really bright kind of next generation of language experts or translators that understand that, that have that kind of unique combo of cultural and subject matter expertise, and this deep kind of passion for language, because you do need that passion for the perfect sentence and the retweaking and things like that, because the output of these systems now is, to me, when I check them for English into German, it’s getting to the point where it’s kind of like a bad to medium translator. I used to QA 15 years ago, and I got upset about, oh, can you just not stick to the source text that closely? It’s like, can you just, come on, just rewrite it a little bit, then it becomes more natural. But you need to be a bit obsessed about a language to care about that, and like your average user is like, well, it reads okay, it doesn’t have an obvious error, so I’ll just let it through, and then you see the English shine through the German. Like, you just see it there.

Anja: I love that so much, and what I’ve seen is, over the years, is obviously been going for 14 years, and the generation of translators that are coming through, it’s changing. Like, whereas before, it was like the blank page was the Holy Grail. You can write as you wish, translate it to the best possible ability. Now, new translators almost fear the empty page. They’re quite happy to have a pre-populated MT or AI and then doctor it and make it right. And what worries me about that is that actually the more traditional translators, they had to construct that sentence in their head from scratch, right? Whereas when you’re already given something cognitively, you’ve gone down that path, so you’re just correcting. Whereas as you know, that sometimes you really need to actually turn a sentence on its head, flip the arguments around to really make it idiomatic and compelling in another language. And I guess my personal fear is that everything on the internet is just going to end up a bit blah, just a bit like blah blah, all right, but especially when it comes to marketing, blah isn’t going to cut it. You need something much stronger and more compelling than that to sell your products and services.

Florian: 100%, but then the question is, if 90% of the internet has become blah and really mediocre and you see whatever source kind of shine through that French, English or Spanish, then shouldn’t there be a crop of providers that say, wait a moment, like you spend all this time with the source and all, let us make it really impactful, and that’s something that AI will struggle to do. And I bet even in five to ten years, AI will struggle to do, so yeah, there’s probably a business opportunity. Is it as large as the traditional 2005 giant localization, translation industry? Maybe not, right? Or maybe if the pie gets so big that that 10% basically makes up for all the automation, but, yeah, I know what you mean. You need people with a passion for that, and that’s hard to source. And I think, again, I’m a little worried about the next generation, and if people just are satisfied with that mediocre thing and just the language as a whole, it changes, right? What are the toughest text types for AI to get right in your view?

Anja: I think generally it’s anything to do that’s kind of transcreation, anything that just needs a little bit more of that wordplay, that creativity injected in it. So in marketing text, I generally don’t find AI very good. It’s doable, but not fantastic, as we kind of just talked about. Also things like subtitling, I think our translators keep feeding back just when they come across AI translated subtitles. It just doesn’t work, partially because of the character restrictions and sometimes how things have to be arranged on the screen. So, yeah, character restrictions also for things like Google Ads and any kind of social media ads where you have to work to very tight limitations, that doesn’t seem to do so well in that. And then more broadly speaking, anything that requires that real cultural sensitivity where you’re not just translating, but you’re also adapting for maybe different cultural values and deference and that sort of thing.

Florian: Yeah, because for some of the standardized things, it’s getting quite, I mean, getting, it’s been for five, six years. Regulation, so the European Union just, I think, not finalized, but I think they’re on the way on the road to finalizing their giant AI Act, which I’m kind of on the fence if it’s a good or bad thing to regulate. What do you think? Do we need that type of regulation? Maybe not super broadly on AI generally, but kind of on language AI more narrowly?

Anja: Yes, absolutely. I do think we need regulation. Quick question for you. Have you seen, what’s it called, The Social Dilemma? It was a Netflix documentary that came out in 2020, and it was all about how social media has negative impacts on society. That documentary was produced by the Center for Humane Technology, and those guys who produced it, they came out, or they posted on YouTube about a year ago, kind of a presentation they gave to tech leaders in the US called The AI Dilemma, and it’s just over an hour long. Recommend it to anyone to watch it. You will have sleepless nights afterwards. But I think it kind of really highlights why we need regulation of large language models, because there is so much potential opportunity, but there’s also so much potential risk of things, how people can exploit large language models in general and AI to cause some real, real harm. And it talks in that documentary a lot about how at the moment, you’ve got these developers of large language models and they’re all in that massive race to be the first to market and to be the best and have that massive market share, but not really putting the safeguards in place to actually make it safe for society. And at the moment, yes, regulation is catching up, so obviously ChatGPT came out almost a year ago, and everyone and their uncle is on it and using it to write emails, presentations, to generate images and now videos, I think as of this last week. But it’s not always safe, so I definitely think we need AI regulation. And as a business owner, I’m going to be looking to the AI Act, the EU’s AI Act, to help me decide how we could potentially safely use large language models in our business to kind of help drive it forward and not fall behind to competition. But for language industry specifically, I think we do need some regulation. I don’t know in what way it could happen, but when I was thinking about, I think you spoke about it in your podcast not so long ago when the Argentinian President was giving a speech, and then it was audio translated and lip-synced so you could watch him in German. I think that has some horrendous ethical questions around that kind of technology. And in the world where we barely know what’s real anymore, and there’s so much deepfake technology out there, I think there needs to be some regulation to protect consumers, so they have an idea of what it is they’re actually consuming. Was this generated by AI? Was this generated by a human? But also to protect the people who are, like the companies who are pushing that stuff out there. Needs to be some sort of disclaimer to say, like, this was maybe translated by AI, so there may be some errors in this to kind of just to stop having libel causes or things like that. Yeah, I think there’s also something around how do you protect someone’s image? I was reading about the Australian Open wanting to use the same kind of technology to have these live interviews with their tennis players. And some of the tennis players are going like, well, hang on a minute, how can you be sure that what I’m saying is going to be right and going to represent me in the right light? So, yeah, I do think there is some regulation, whether it’s self regulation or coming from government, maybe that’s to debate, but I think there needs to be some guidelines, some code of ethics or something to help us in this new era.

Florian: Yeah, the Milei, again, the Argentinian President, that one was really weird. And the fact that the very few examples I’ve seen so far, actually, the principals who were lip-synced, translated, liked it and retweeted it. Maybe that’s why it got amplified so much. But, I mean, I wouldn’t like that, especially in a language I had no idea about. Like, if somebody did that into Japanese, I’m like, I don’t know if that’s what I said, really. And then if this just becomes a mass kind of phenomenon, then people don’t question it at all anymore. At least now it’s like, oh, my God, did you see it was live, or it was translated into German, I watched it in his voice? But if it becomes a mass phenomenon, people will have a hard time distinguishing if that person really spoke Japanese or Spanish or German. I think that’s a tricky one and a very language industry specific use case. So these tech companies should probably label it, right?

Anja: And even think about, like, it now takes only three seconds to record your voice, to then produce a synthetic voice, like your voice synthetically. Now think about you calling your bank, right, and getting through security with your voice, or someone calling their grandma asking for money in the grandson’s voice. There are so much things that could go wrong, right? So you do need some regulation to make sure that tech is actually used for good and it’s not going to just destroy our society completely.

Florian: I wonder how that would work because, for example, personally, for me, I did 200 episodes, but every single one was in English. So if that thing did a voice profile of the English voice and then did it in German, produced text in German, if it sounded anything like me in German, that would be interesting.

Anja: One way to find out, Florian.

Florian: Well, there’s more than three minutes on the internet now. All right, so well, ethics plays a role in all this, and you guys won the 2023 ATC Ethical Business Ward. Tell me more about that. What gets a company recognized, other than the B Corp?

Anja: Yeah, I mean, the B Corp, I think, played a big part in it, but I think, yeah, I’m really, really happy and proud that the UK Association of Translation Companies put on this Ethical Business Summit last year for the very first time. They partnered up with the EU ATC, so the European Association of Translation Companies, and for the very first time actually put ethics and sustainability on the map, I think, in the translation industry. I certainly hadn’t heard anywhere before someone really talking about this topic, so it was a really fantastic event. And basically as part of that, they have their annual language industry awards, and because it was an ethical business summit, they then also gave an ethical business award. And yeah, it was a lot around, obviously, our B Corp journey, but also kind of our commitment to fair pay, transparent communication, bringing together our community and provide opportunities for new translators entering the industry. I think there is something really important that I think maybe we’re missing at the moment in the industry, and that is to give translators a voice. And I think by bringing just a simple act of us bringing together our translators in a Slack community and giving them the opportunity to talk to each other, to raise concerns, and talk and championing them through there, I think that probably played a part in it. So one really lovely thing that we started doing last year, which I’m personally quite proud of, is we’re running like a lunch and learn session once a month, and that is where we want to actually raise the profile of our freelance translators so they can come and basically give a talk to the community about a topic of their choice, something that hopefully broadly relates to language, culture translation, and it’s a great way for them to practice public speaking. It’s about getting their expertise out there and raising their own profile as professional experts. So we’ve had, just last week we had one on SEO translation and one before we had something completely different around public speaking, but just really a nice way to bring translators together. I think it’s a great way to, I think, also be ethical. The closer you are to the translators or your workers or your supply chain, I think the more ethical choices you’re bound to make.

Florian: Sounds great. What’s in store for 2024, 2025 for you? Any big initiatives, project plans?

Anja: Well, hopefully just continuing on that journey to work with more value-aligned businesses as we kind of head into this year. We’ve got some sustainable fashion brands in the pipeline where we’re going to hopefully translate their website into German. We’ve just had a call with a company that has a really cool tech where they’re leveraging AI to serve hyper-personalized Google Ads to people that kind of get generated on the fly. And now they’ve got that tech in English, they want to take that into other languages. So there’ll be a lot of linguistic support there to make sure that the strings are constructed in a way that makes sense in each language. So there’s a few projects like that in the pipeline that I’m very excited about.