Will translators go the way of telephone switchboard operators, bank tellers and travel agents, or will they still be in demand? Do advances in AI and Machine Translation signal a final turning point? No, says Lichi Translations CEO Mikhal Heffer, translators are here to stay – as long as they can adapt.

When we do wonderful things with our smartphones (including talking to people sometimes) we forget that not so long ago we needed somebody to ‘plug us in’ for conversations. Technology is leaping ahead in incredible ways to make our lives more convenient.

People now use AI tools like Google Translate to help them cross the bridges between languages – and those tools have certainly improved. They cut the time to get to a translation ‘at the first stage’. Sometimes it’s enough for their needs. At Lichi we use more advanced AI programs to initiate the translation of clients’ website content from one language to another. But of course that’s only the start!

Nothing can replace the human eye and the human experience in translations. Languages are full of subtle complexities which need to be considered and often included in the final product. This raises the issue of ‘transcreation’ – which is the natural next step for Lichi after ‘translation’.

Transcreation is a blend of editing and creative writing. Progressive translation agencies like Lichi in Israel have already embraced such skills to deliver a high quality of translation in every field – technical, medical, social, marketing and more. This is what we mean by professional translators being able to adapt. Errors and misinterpretations are an expected part of the machine-translation experience and must be processed out.

Can AI accurately mimic human expression? Look at the ‘speech recognition’ systems. They try their best but it’s always a bit of a gamble whether they can capture our true meaning. A lot of us remember that funny video a few years back of two men with heavy Scottish accents getting into a voice-activated lift (‘elevator’) with no buttons and shouting ‘ELEVEN’ to try to get to their floor.

There’s also that funny anecdote: 

Call of ship in distress “Help us, we are sinking!”

German Coastguard: “What are you ‘sinking’ about?”

Yes, for anything valuable and serious, we’ll continue to need skilled and experienced translators who work across the spectrum of world languages. They are the ones who can truly understand us and give us the authentic voice of convincing expression. That’s the test. Use machine tools, by all means, but understand where their capabilities stop.

Mikhal Heffer

Lichi Translations is an established yet dynamic translation agency in Israel with deep experience in undertaking a wide scope of ambitious projects for local and international clients.