28 June 2023

A perfectly civil chat

A perfectly civil chat

I came across a very short, but interesting article in DIE ZEIT earlier this month, entitled “Die Angst vor KI” (The fear of AI”). The author, H. Rauterberg, refers to AI scientists as “inverted utopists(he gets the term from a contemporary philosopher). It stands in contrast to classic utopists, who imagine something that they cannot produce, AI developers produce something they cannot explain.

In fact, quite of few of them are admitting they have no clue what’s going on in their black box… And if you are dealing with something that you cannot explain, of course that makes you nervous, not to say panicky. Especially if you are a scientist who likes to believe that everything has an explanation and is calculable. But also if you are fearing for your livelihood.

Digitalisation was meant to liberate humans, give them more autonomy and self-determination. I am not sure sure that’s what we are getting. M. Rauterberg reminds us that we are constantly made to believe that we have choices (Yes, I accept all cookies, or No -only the essential ones, or even No cookies at all). But more importantly, did anyone ask us whether we wanted AI in our everyday life? What we are heading for, the author muses, is self-disempowerment, by allowing the machine to write, paint – and think – for us.

The fear of job losses is now wide-spread and being felt by many professionals, including teachers, travel agents, solicitors and writers, and closer to home, translators. So I decided to have it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and have a little chat session to see what the infamous bot has to say how he/she/it might be affecting us.


IW: More and more people are worried about losing their jobs thanks to you ChatGPT. Is there reason for concern?

No, there is no reason for concern. While ChatGPT and similar AI technologies can automate certain tasks and processes, they are primarily designed to assist and enhance human capabilities rather than replace jobs entirely. The adoption of AI often leads to the creation of new job roles and opportunities in various industries.


IW: Tell me what you think the future for translators is. With machine translation and artificial intelligence it seems there will be no need for human translators. What is your opinion on this?

The future of translators in the context of machine translation and artificial intelligence is an interesting topic. While advancements in technology, such as machine translation, have undoubtedly improved translation efficiency and accessibility, the role of human translators remains crucial and is unlikely to be fully replaced.

Machine translation has made significant progress, but it still faces challenges in accurately capturing the nuances of language, context, cultural references, and idiomatic expressions. Translating is not merely about converting words from one language to another but also about conveying meaning, tone, and intent accurately. Human translators possess cultural and linguistic expertise that allows them to navigate these complexities and produce high-quality translations that meet specific needs and requirements.

Furthermore, human translators bring creativity, critical thinking, and subject matter expertise to their work, which is especially valuable in domains like literature, legal documents, marketing materials, and medical or technical texts. They can adapt the translation to the target audience, ensuring clarity and cultural appropriateness.

While machine translation can be useful for generating draft translations or handling straightforward and repetitive content, human translators are still essential for ensuring accuracy, cultural sensitivity, and maintaining the overall quality of translations. In fact, the demand for human translators may even increase as globalization continues to expand, requiring language specialists to bridge communication gaps across cultures and industries.

In summary, while machine translation and artificial intelligence have their advantages, the human element in translation, including linguistic expertise, cultural understanding, and critical thinking, remains invaluable. Human translators are likely to continue playing a significant role in providing accurate, nuanced, and contextually appropriate translations.


IW: Are you saying then that AI does not pose a threat to human translators?

While AI … bla-bla-bla…

However, it is worth noting that AI and machine translation can complement human translators by assisting them in their work. Translation tools powered by AI can aid in the translation process, providing suggestions and automating certain tasks, which can increase efficiency and productivity for translators. This combination of human expertise and technological tools can enhance the overall translation workflow.

It’s important to recognize that while AI and machine translation have made advancements, they are not yet capable of fully replicating the skills and capabilities of human translators. Thus, human translators are likely to remain an integral part of the translation industry, working alongside technology to provide high-quality translations.


IW: Do you have some advice I could share with students of translation, relating to the professional career?

Certainly! Here are some pieces of advice for students pursuing a career in translation:

Develop Strong Language Skills: Focus on developing excellent proficiency in your source language(s) and target language(s). The foundation of a successful translation career lies in a deep understanding of languages, including grammar, vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, and cultural nuances.

Specialize and Hone Your Expertise: Consider specializing in specific fields or industries such as legal, medical, technical, marketing, or literary translation. Developing expertise in a particular area can set you apart and open up more opportunities for specialized projects.

Practice Translation Regularly: Engage in consistent translation practice to improve your skills. Translate a variety of texts and genres, and seek feedback from experienced translators or mentors to refine your work. Continuous practice is key to enhancing your translation abilities.

Cultivate Cultural Awareness: Translation involves more than just linguistic accuracy. Familiarize yourself with the cultures, customs, and social nuances of both the source and target languages. This will enable you to produce translations that are culturally appropriate and resonate with the target audience.

Stay Updated with Language and Industry Trends: Keep yourself informed about language developments, new translation tools, and industry trends. Stay up to date with advancements in technology, terminology resources, and translation software, as they can enhance your productivity and efficiency.

Networking and Professional Connections: Attend industry events, join professional translation associations, and engage with fellow translators. Building a network of colleagues and mentors can provide valuable insights, collaboration opportunities, and access to potential clients.

Continuing Education: Consider pursuing further education or certifications in translation or related fields. Continuously expanding your knowledge and skills through courses, workshops, or professional development programs can help you stay competitive and adaptable in the evolving translation industry.

Professionalism and Business Skills: Treat your translation work as a professional business. Develop strong project management skills, maintain clear communication with clients, meet deadlines, and establish fair pricing policies. Building a reputation for reliability and professionalism is crucial for long-term success.

Embrace Technology: Stay abreast of translation tools and technologies, such as computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools and terminology management systems. These tools can enhance your productivity and consistency, allowing you to deliver high-quality translations efficiently.

Never Stop Learning: The field of translation is ever-evolving, so embrace a growth mindset and a willingness to adapt and learn. Stay curious, explore new subject areas, and embrace new translation techniques and technologies to stay ahead in your career.

Remember that building a successful translation career takes time, dedication, and continuous improvement. By focusing on language skills, specialization, cultural awareness, professional development, and leveraging technology, you can lay a strong foundation for a rewarding career in translation.


IW: How many words do you reckon a human translator can sensibly translate in an 8-hour day? And how much can they achieve with the help of a machine translation engine, such as DeepL?

The number of words a human translator can translate in an 8-hour day can vary based on several factors, including the complexity of the text, the translator’s experience and expertise, the subject matter, and the quality and clarity of the source text. However, it is commonly estimated that a professional translator can translate around 2,000 to 2,500 words per day for medium to complex texts while maintaining high-quality standards. This estimate includes the time required for research, terminology management, and proofreading.

When it comes to using a machine translation engine like DeepL, it can significantly increase translation productivity. Machine translation can provide a draft translation that the human translator can then refine and adapt. The speed at which a human translator can work with the assistance of machine translation depends on various factors, such as the translator’s familiarity with the subject matter, the quality of the machine translation output, and the level of post-editing required. As a rough estimate, it is possible for a human translator to double or even triple their translation output with the aid of a machine translation engine.



I think you will agree that the tone is civil, not at all offensive or opinionated. “Neutral” or  “bland” would describe it most aptly. Certainly not original or controversial, or creative. So perhaps, we should add an additional item for Translators: Cultivate your creativity. That might well be our last stronghold.

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