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AI translation, the unspeakable truth

Only rarely do we get the chance to observe the world changing in front of our eyes, or in this case ears. The trajectory of…

Only rarely do we get the chance to observe the world changing in front of our eyes, or in this case ears. The trajectory of technology for AI-based voice-to-voice translation makes measurable progress at a monthly or even weekly pace. Even more unsettling than the sheer speed of progress is the weird relationship between AI based speech translation and human based interpretation. Like characterising an uneasy partnership on social media, you would have to summarise it by saying “it’s complicated”.

It is that complication I am unravelling in this session.

The historic truth is that we didn’t know what the benefits and complications of interpretation were because we had no index. No reference to compare it too. Now we know, we find that what we needed and then what we got to satisfy our multi-lingual meetings, conferences and events is not what we asked for or what we thought we had. This does not mean that interpretation cannot or has not been successful, it has been. Just that we never really understood its benefits and so never understood its limitations either.

AI speech translation has both shot past interpretation in performance while at the same time lagging far behind it. For example, AI is always more precise than interpretation, and it is more accurate except that it is sometimes less accurate, and when it is less accurate that makes the increased precision irrelevant. AI is also way more flexible than interpretation, until it is less flexible and then it is not flexible at all. Confused? Yes, none of this is easy.
There is one thing that AI has though that makes it really special for translation. A lot of predictions about AI are only very loosely connected to reality, but when it comes to comprehension, its performance is incredible. It is the power of the hive mind at the centre of AI language solutions that means it understands us better than we can ourselves. Of all the facts surrounding AI, that one that is both the strangest and the most significant.

So, given this complex and surprising landscape, isn’t it about time we had a good talk with ourselves and spoke the truth to ourselves about both AI and interpretation.

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