The Future of the Language Industry Relies on AI & Remote Work Teams

Once you pass those words – AI and Remote work – you will see that this article by our Guest Contributor and Day Translations CEO, Sean Patrick Hopwood, gives us an interesting insight into our professional future.

Machine translation is evolving almost daily, with machines learning to carry out certain translation tasks unsupervised and with a skimmer and skimmer body of linguistic references. But their output still has to be fine-tuned by humans. Especially if the job at hand isn’t just translation, or if it requires handling a body of knowledge unrelated to translation. For instance, the job of the judicial translator or interpreter, due to the precise and intelligent terminology management it requires, is very unlikely to become an automated service in the short term. Even if possible in the short term, a precise legal translation by a machine is likely to be unable to compete with human interpretation or translation in the short, due to its cost.

Automation vs or with The Human Touch?

Regardless, it’s undeniable that our workflows are getting increasingly automated. In the future, this trend will deepen, with humans in charge of supervision tasks and of all that which we cannot rely on machines for: Uniqueness, spontaneity, and creative decision-making.

For growing businesses, a successful global expansion relies on getting comprehensive services that require a deep understanding of cross-cultural nuances (such as localization). In these cases, a human hand is essential. And the insight of trained native speakers from the involved languages is an assurance of accuracy.

The World is Our Oyster

The internet’s astoundingly fast development has granted businesses access, not only to an international clientele, but also to an international workforce. Businesses like Day Translations, the Language Services Provider (LSP) I founded twelve years ago, rely on international work teams of professional linguists, marketers and programmers. The internet has allowed us to provide culturally-aware services at competitive rates, using the expertise of professionals from all around the globe. One no longer has to select the best native Somali to English judicial interpreter in the area, having, virtually, every single Somali to English judicial interpreter in the world, available.

The capacity to hand-pick talent across borders, combined with the use of neural network machines for repetitive tasks seems like a bright one, in which we’ll be able to access the best talent around, putting the weight of repetitive and low-complexity tasks off their shoulders.

How Rosy Is the Future?

But, while we should wholeheartedly embrace the future, it’s undeniable that there are challenges ahead of us. For example, the translators who suffer from automation anxiety are not few. And this anxiety is more than justified, with industry giants such as Ebay, Amazon and Google investing in MT, and relying on MT to deliver tailored experiences to non-English speaking customers.

What challenges do international service providers with remote teams and increasingly automated workflows face?

  • Training

While having an at least partially remote workplace will entail some challenges, it can also be greatly beneficial. Not only from a cultural standpoint, but also from a productive one.

According to a survey conducted by Connect Solution,  “Of those who work remotely at least a few times per month, 77 percent reported greater productivity while working offsite; 30 percent said they accomplished more in less time and 24 percent said they accomplished more in the same amount of time.”

While remote work and cultural diversity might require cross-cultural sensitivity training and the implementation of new workplace policies, the HR department won’t be the only one with changing responsibilities in the following years.

  • Multicultural Teams

More than ever, teams will need to stay up-to-date on the latest new tools and technological advancements, and on how to capitalize on them to remain competitive.  

Language services providers have always thrived on multidisciplinary teams. For instance, at Day Translations we count on programmers to help us localize websites and apps. What’s ahead of us? The inclusion of professionals who are able to mediate the steps of the process delegated to machines and those in the hands of humans, along with an expansion of the translator’s toolkit and body of technical knowledge. Continuous education and training are important, but the speed at which we’ll need to update our body of knowledge will increase.

While having your workflow distributed along many time zones is in itself challenging, it’s not the only tricky part of managing multicultural teams.

Cultural differences don’t only influence communication styles, but also what employees might expect their team’s dynamics and their relationship with management to be.

For instance, workers from countries with individualistic cultures will prefer directive, strong, vertical leadership and close supervision, while employees from culturally collectivist countries will prefer supportive leadership focused on harmonic working relationships.

Leading multicultural teams successfully requires managing these conflicting expectations while creating an effective work dynamic, mediating and avoiding misunderstandings while fostering a sense of unity. For us in the language industry, trying to stop technological progress is absurd. Trying to not become more effective thanks to technology is wasting an opportunity. The best goal we can work towards is integrating technology into our workflows, and using it to become more efficient, and have more time to dedicate to the tasks that machines can’t carry out. Those tasks have value in themselves, since they tend to be those the quality of our work actually depends upon.

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.

6 thoughts on “The Future of the Language Industry Relies on AI & Remote Work Teams”

  1. Vicki Santamaria says:

    Having translators/interpreters available all over the world might be great for agencies, but translators/interpreters living in first world countries can’t compete with the very low rates offered by practitioners living in the developing world.

    Also, as a former telephone interpreter and a current translator working from home, I can testify that working from home is very Isolating. Here again, it’s a win-win for the agency because there’s no need to provide office space or equipment or benefits.

    One other issue with remote interpreting is that it’s very difficult to control the sound quality of a telephone call or internet connection.

  2. David Mintz says:

    Interesting stuff. You mention the virtual availability of the world’s finest Somali-English interpreters. Other than accounting for differences in time zone, do you see any downside to using remote interpreters (say, via video conference) for court proceedings, as compared to on-site? Let’s assume the same interpreter/same skills in each case, for the sake of the example.

    Another question. Do you have any thoughts about the economic race to the bottom that the globalization of the T/I industry entails? Feel free not to accept the premise of the question if you like :-). My concern is that the winners are the entrepreneurs and middlemen (think Uber) at the expense of the workers — knowledge workers, if you like — who actually do the productive work.

  3. Arnaldo Buzack says:

    My one consolation is that with the development of AI, eventually the machines will realize they don’t need us, at which point all the oligarchs of the nascent (and so-called) ‘gig economy’ are as screwed as the rest of us. Until then brace yourselves, it will be a bumpy ride to the bottom for 99% of us. Well, I at least am old enough that I should be able to secure a decent income for the rest of my productive days. Unfortunately, Day Translations is one of the new players in this wave of exploitative agencies that are popping up, trying to monopolize the market. I went through their application process once. The ridiculous amount of demands they make of their prospective providers does not translate into fair rates, curiously enough. Or not at all. So, if you can afford it, do not work for them is my suggestion. Maybe they’ll pass too.

  4. Alfredo Babler says:

    Source Language: Spanish
    Target Language: English
    “Entre, entre y tome asiento.”
    AI machine aided translation:
    “Between, between and drink a chair.”
    What could possible go wrong?

  5. Gio Lester says:

    We find ourselves at the cusp of important changes and I am so happy to be here.

    When I started in this profession, I used a manual typewriter and since then I have graduated to almost all developments in the segment of my craft. I love being able to dictate my work into my computer or telephone. Being able to pick from a pre-selected grouping of choices when I am in doubt is great, and sometimes those choices lead me to the correct rendition. MT, when properly used is a very helpful tool. It can be misused, such as when clients run texts through Google Translate or other such service and submit it for “editing.” That’s not what MT is for. It can provide comic relief (see Alfredo’s comment) or free up valuable employee time and meet customers demand, such as in eBay, Amazon and other companies that use MT heavily every day.

    I do not want to be bothered with the type of text eBay and Amazon use MT for. They know how to use that and how to use professionals to work on their marketing and other content targetting their international audiences.

    And the developments in the interpreting helm are also fascinating. I love being able to work across the ocean without having to leave my home or to work with colleagues who are far removed from where I am located. Technology affords us these new scenarios.

    Is everything perfect? NO. That’s where we, The Professionals, come in and work with those providing the tech so we can make sure standards are met, working conditions are optimum or close to, training is provided, that the interpreter’s concern is only related to the work at hand not technical or other non-interpreting related issues.

    I believe in creating the future I want to live in. That means, embracing change, adapting and willingness to learn so we do not reach our obsolescence ahead of time.

  6. Vicki Santamaria: Yes, I see your point. However, this is something not only happening in the Language Industry, but in all industries where the worker doesn’t need to be on-site to perform the job. Copywriters can be anywhere, developers can be anywhere, and so on. That’s the “downside” of globalization for professionals in first world countries, and the upside for professionals in third world countries. It’s an interesting dynamic that I think will continue to evolve in future years.

    David Mintz: I don’t see any downsides to remote language professionals, assuming they share skills in this case. I do believe some new laws might have to come up or be adapted in order for these proceedings to occur (a.k.a. checking background of language professional, relationship with the party he’s interpreting for, sound equipment for interpretation).

    When it comes to economic race to the bottom, cases of the negative impacts of not having proper regulations keep popping up constantly, and it ends up hurting the brands that still push this to happen (for things to be less regulated). When it comes to language services, and especially in the medical and legal sectors, regulation is needed because we’re dealing with people’s lives, not just money.

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