Is machine translation about to replace human translation?
Translation companies have always tried to provide the best quality translations possible. So far, using human translation seems to be the best option. However, some companies have recently announced new translation systems that would bring considerable improvements to the industry. Their promise is to provide high quality and natural sounding translations through convenient devices.
Recent breakthroughs in the real-time translation field
After adding instant image translation to its “Google Translate” service in 2012, Google launched its first headphones in November 2017. They enable users to have direct access to Google assistance. They can listen to music; ask for traffic information; write emails and have a conversation in another language thanks to Google Translate. The Google’s earphones – the Pixel Buds – are real-time translating devices that can translate 40 languages. Although its product gathered impressive press coverage, Google wasn’t the first company to develop this kind of technology.
In 2016, Waverly Labs, an American company, produced the first earpiece language translator. Since then, real-time translation has been a trend that no company wants to miss. Several companies worldwide have been developing their own devices such as LeTrans, Travis The Translator, Ili Wearable Translator and Bragi Dash Pro.
How efficient is it?
These technologies are very easy to use. For most of them, all you need is earpieces and a smartphone. With the translating earphones, two people who speak different languages, they can both hear the words in their own language instantly during a conversation, and right in their ears.
These technologies aim at making international communication easier. The founder of Waverly Labs even said that he had his idea because he had trouble communicating with his girlfriend. She spoke French and he spoke English. Using this kind of technology was a good solution to overcome the language barrier in their relationship. It helped them have natural conversations.
However, when Google’s earphones started to sell for the first time in 2017, the press generally agreed to say that Google had failed to deliver its promise.
In fact, most of these devices are really efficient, but for basic conversations only. Having a deep conversation with these earphones may be difficult, as some translations sound unidiomatic. However, other translating systems do exist.
Achieving human parity
More recently, Microsoft announced it has developed a translation system as accurate and idiomatic as human translation. It said it has achieved human parity on news stories translation in one language pair (Chinese to English).
Their system has been tested by bilingual human evaluators. They compared Microsoft’s results to professional human translations and approved them. Microsoft even wrote on its website that their system “significantly exceeds the quality of crowd-sourced non-professional translations”.
Microsoft is now working on real-time news stories translation.
Almost two years ago, Google also announced that their system’s translations were “nearly indistinguishable” from human translations.
Although machine translation has recently made breakthrough improvements, human expertise is very often still required to proofread and edit translations.
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