“Utility” vs. “Eloquence” for measures of Quality

I recently read that “utility is valued over eloquence as a measure of translation quality” by some of the big companies entering the translation and interpreting field (Intel, Microsoft, Asia Online and Spoken Translation).  If this is the new industry trend, in the future, “quality” will just be a “value added” sought by some few companies.  This new industry concept of “utility” being more important than “eloquence” (which to date has been our measure of quality) will totally change the roles of the players in this industry, and that includes us, translators and interpreters. We have to be aware of the changes occurring in the industry if we want to remain being relevant. Any change we want (or want to avoid), it is up to us to fight for it. So, in this fast pace world of the 21st Century, “instant” is the concept of choice in service provision, and based on this, huge companies like Intel, Microsoft, Asia Online and Spoken Translation are penetrating the translation and interpreting industry and having initial success at doing so.  The final products of course are years away, but the trend has certainly started.  The future is here.  There is no such thing as “it will not happen”.  It is happening.  Translators are being replaced by machine translation at an alarming speed. Those translators that fail to see the trend will be left without a job in a matter of a decade. Post-MT editing is strongly becoming the trend in the “normal” industry and now, with this latest concept-change of utility vs. eloquence, the trend will change faster than ever as machine translation becomes more and more common, easier to access and “acceptable” in terms of its output.  What I am reading here is that more and more the end-receivers of translation products are accepting a mediocre product provided it is fast (machine-translation produced) and relatively accurate (yet to be accomplished but fast on the way to get there).  So, people will not care about construction of the sentences or grammar or inherent meaning of the source language.  They will just want to get the “general idea” and that is all they want.  Well, at least a large portion of the buyers of translation services.  Of course there will be many large companies out there that will still strive for quality.  But if the extraordinary growth of machine translation resources is any evidence of the exponential improvement in quality in the past decade, I can only guess that indeed, quality translation, can be achieved in one or two decades with machine translation.  Yes, I know this is a blasphemy.  But it is reality.  I was one of those who thought 15 years ago this day will never come.  Well, it is here.  So, let’s face reality.  The future of the translation industry is being taken over by the big software companies that are creating the software capable of penetrating the “magic” of translation.  Once they get there, it will be like any other industry of the 19th century.  Replicate replicate replicate.  We, the original translators, must become very active in designing the strategies for our own future.  What is the profession going to look like in 20 years?  We have to start answering that question from a perspective of the current reality and not from the perspective of what would we ideally feel like it should.  Should does not work any more.  Could is here to stay. We need to wake up to reality as a profession and set out to design our future in the world.

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