Interpreting Into the Future: How Technology Shaped the Interpreting Industry

How could modern translations function without technology? There’s no denying the important role technology plays in our modern life. But it’s a double-edged sword since each new technological advancement poses a new risk to translators and interpreters: the possibility of one day being replaced by a computer. Imagine being tasked with overcoming language barriers two or three centuries ago! Back then, there was no Google Translate, and if you mentioned electronic data collection to your community, they would probably set something on fire. An app that could connect you to a real-time, professional interpreter when you needed it most wasn’t even something people dreamed about. Thankfully, technological progress has made it much faster and more efficient to transfer words from one country to another. The shift into the digital era was drastically accelerated by the global pandemic, and although it had serious consequences on many aspects of business across the world, some advances helped us become even more connected than before. Technological advancements upended entire industrial sectors, and one of the most notable areas of change can be observed in the interpretation industry. But what do these changes look like, and more importantly, where is the future of human interpreting headed with technology as a driver of continual change?  

Current Technologies Used in the Interpreting and Translation Industry

The tools that are currently in use within the interpreting and translation industry assist linguists in their professional roles. The technological advancements we’re referring to include:  

Machine Translation (MT)

Computer-generated translations have the capacity to translate large chunks of texts without human involvement. But the downfall to MT and machine learning is these technological developments do not consider cultural sensitivities, and this disqualifies these new technologies as standalone tools.  

Translation Memory (TM) Systems 

Translation memory (TM) systems are computer-based features that save words and segments that have been translated into the target language by a human translator for future translation projects. This helps improve the accuracy and efficiency levels of professional translation projects.  

Smart Tools for Audio and Video Content

Armed with smartphones and popular web-conferencing systems for virtual meetings, interpreters have so much more opportunities to work with global clients than they did in the past. With remote-interpreting solutions, geographical location is no longer a hurdle that linguists need to overcome to help break the language barrier. The technology that supports remote interpreting has also made great strides over the last few years. The Day Interpreting App, for example, connects qualified, experienced interpreters with customers in real-time.  

Video Remote Interpretation – the Perfect Example of Technology-Driven Language Access Services

Language access services like remote interpreting showcase how drastically interpreting services have changed over the last few years, and it’s all part of a wave of tech developments that work together to improve the way we do things in society. The demand for language-industry professionals like translators and interpreters is always growing, and video technologies provide the ideal way to meet that growing demand. Thanks to the evolution of technology, interpretation is accessible in areas where it might never have seemed possible in the past. However, the rise of AI being used in applications like Zoom to facilitate real-time interpreting in multilingual meetings poses a growing risk to human interpreters.  

How Technology Will Keep Driving Change for Interpreting Services

Armed with the technology that facilitates video remote interpretation services through popular web-conferencing systems, we are opportunistic about what the future might hold for interpreters. The devices interpreters now use to interpret audio and video content have come a long way since the day of booths and headsets. However, the transformation goes deeper than the surface level of hardware. The way in which interpreters work to overcome language barriers has also undergone a metamorphosis of sorts. More and more interpreters offer remote simultaneous-interpreting services these days, and a decade ago, this was a farfetched idea. The technology in the industry has also made the lives of professional interpreters easier, allowing them to work from the comfort of their own homes when in-person interpreting is not an option. This benefit is double-sided, though, as it is also an advantage to clients, who can gain access to more efficient video remote-interpreting services without factoring in travel and lodging costs for interpreters.  

Why Technology Needs Human Expertise for Consistent and Accurate Translation

Tools like Google Translate seem like solutions to help break the language barrier. After all, they’re much cheaper than professional interpreting services. However, the tools can’t ever be as efficient as human interpreters. Nor can they consistently and accurately translate human communication. These tech tools aren’t advanced or reliable enough to provide accurate translations, and confidentiality will probably always be an issue when it comes to a cloud-based tool. Then there’s the case of no ‘coverage’ for words that do not have a direct translation in the target language. The other thing that needs to be considered is that AI cannot understand emotions within conversations, nor does it include cultural awareness when performing translations. Interpretation tools might be handy for short sentences, but it only understands basic grammar and vocabulary and cannot translate the theme of a message. All this serves as empirical evidence that technological advancements might be driving change in the interpretation industry, but they will not be replacing human translation and interpretation services in the near future.  

Wrapping Up

Thanks to technological advances, interpreters and their clients are closer, and language barriers are being broken down more effectively and efficiently. The interpreting process has undergone a radical change, turning into something that’s easily accessible and more personal for everyone involved. And as technology keeps evolving, the interpreting sector will follow suit, resulting in even more consistent and accurate translation and interpretation. The role technology plays has made access to remote-interpreting services easier, improving accessibility to interpreters that speak rare languages. While it is true that the fear of being replaced by an automated tool is a growing concern among translators and interpreters, technology is nowhere near advanced enough to replace a human professional. The future of translation is human-and-AI powered, both forces working together in Post Edit Machine Translation (PEMT). The human element simply isn’t replaceable, in spite of the changes. With the ‘human in the loop’ approach, it’s a best-of-both-worlds scenario, and it’s a scenario that translators and interpreters seem to be willing to work with.


Sean Patrick Hopwood has had a long love affair with languages, and is a polyglot with different levels of command of at least seven languages: “I find the power and versatility of words both exciting and intriguing. Like people, it’s the little details and idiosyncrasies, along with their cultural influences and beliefs that make them who they are; unique.”

Click here to learn more about Sean Patrick Hopwood and Day Translations.

Main photo taken from “Análisis cinematográfico y sociológico: MODERN TIMES (1936)” by Marcos Tanarro Palacios at El Acorazado Cinéfilo – Le cuirassé cinéphile. Body photo taken from “les inquiétants progrès de l’idéologie anti-humaine” at 100 futurs.
1 Comment
  • Anthony Eldredge
    Posted at 10:05h, 03 May Reply

    I think Sean is pretty much on point. The COVID impact to worldwide business operations drove our industry to utilize and advance the use of technology to successfully conduct business accommodate international business and associated operations. I view this as a welcome push into virtual interpretation that was long over due. The technology was there. Many just weren’t using it. Some because they’re dinosaurs/ Others refused to use technology and others because they viewed virtual simultaneous interpretation as a much lesser quality of service. The industry has proven that to be otherwise. It’s here to stay.

    As Sean rightfully stated, virtual remote interpreting has proven to be efficient, reduce costs, provide flexibility and agility, while allowing many interpreters to work from the comfort of their home. We should embrace it. Technology creates efficiency and is no threat to interpreters in the near term. We aren’t in the Star Trek ages yet. There’s no universal communicator out there. As language continues to evolve, human language technologies are not going to capture the nuances of culture, slang, idioms, dialects, and the ever changing languages of the world in sufficient quality to ever take out the human element.

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