AI levels translation industry, with major layoffs predicted
Translation engines could lead to mass layoffs of translators and take a toll on the US$50-billion translation industry around the globe, according to artificial intelligence (AI)-powered cloud-based translation management platform One Hour Translation (OHT).
"The jobs of hundreds of thousands of professionals in the global translation industry are at risk as a result of the rapid improvement in neural machine translation [NMT] engines of companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft and others," said Ofer Shoshan, chief executive and co-founder of OHT.
The industry generates over $50 billion in annual revenue and employs upwards of 500,000 professionals at an estimated 21,000 translation agencies.
By 2022, most business translations will be carried out by NMT engines, which will be largely free, with human post-editing, Mr Shoshan said.
The use of NMT is already leading to substantial savings for companies that spend millions of dollars annually on translation services and are dependent on them.
The developments affecting the global translation industry are part of a wider technology trend with AI revolutionising numerous sectors of the economy.
He said NMT has started to transform the translation industry. The quality of translation engines is improving rapidly and the number of human translators is expected to drop vastly in the future.
"We are witnessing an acceleration of this trend and many of the existing agencies and translators will be forced to shut down or focus on post-editing, reviewing or the highly specialised end of the business," said Mr Shoshan.
Many companies are expected to invest in their own NMT engines, he said, adding Booking.com has also embarked on the technology.
This can often be more expensive in the short term, but in the long term it makes a lot of sense for companies that have a substantial presence in many countries where the local language is crucial to sales, he said.
Mr Shoshan suggested companies pool together human and machine translators, adding OHT is adopting the two approaches as its hybrid translation strategy.
Yaron Kaufman, chief of marketing and a co-founder of OHT, said translation technology would help developing companies reach a global audience easily.
This technology would usher in almost-free digital content in local languages, real-time communication with customers anywhere in the world, better internal communication in global companies and more tourism opportunities.
Mr Kaufman said NMT technologies are moving fast, and global companies are already taking advantage.
Companies with global exposure such as Xiaomi, Alibaba and Booking.com translate billions of words every month into dozens of languages, expanding rapidly.
"Companies can and should train dedicated NMT engines today to support this growth, and need to adapt fast," he said.
Every business has its own terminology and style guide when communicating with its customers. The result is better when using a customised engine, said Mr Kaufman.
OHT is expanding worldwide and East Asian countries are part of that strategy, he said.
In September, it plans to organise a conference in Beijing, and an event in Bangkok is also in the pipeline.
Many companies engage in English-Thai translation and the number of the tasks grows every quarter, Mr Kaufman noted.