What is Google Translate doing to the translation profession?

November 2, 2015
What is Google Translate doing to the translation profession?

When Google Translate was created in 2006, a ripple of fear spread around the globe so far as the translation industry was concerned. Many translators began to worry about the long-term prospects of their career choice. 

Now, nearly a decade later, Google Translate is still not that widely used for producing professional translations, so what has it actually done to the translation profession?

Reputational damage

One unintended side effect of Google Translate has been the potential reputational damage that it has created for translation in general. Before this popular online translation tool existed, using a professional translator was the only way to really obtain a translation. The translation quality that can be obtained from a human translator was thus assured. 

Now, Google Translate – and similar online tools – offers a quick and easy way for individuals to translate documents. As such tools are not currently sophisticated enough to offer high quality translation (largely due to the fact that they translate words and don’t tackle sentence structure or implied meaning), the number of poor quality translations in existence has increased. This does not benefit the reputation of translation as a whole. 

Decreased demand

Certainly Google Translate has led to some decrease in demand for professional translation services. Though it is not widely used to produce word-perfect translations, Google Translate is used daily by individuals and businesses across the world to perform translations ranging from a couple of words to entire websites. 

For example, a business that needs its website translated into another language is still likely to use a professional translation agency to produce a good quality site. However, if that business receives an email from a customer in another language, it is likely to turn to Google Translate for an instant, free translation in order to understand what the customer is saying. 

Impact on rates

The impact of Google Translate on translation rates charged by individuals around the globe is impossible to assess. The data is too widespread and there are too many variables. However, it is safe to say that ‘you get what you pay for’ is still true of the translation profession. If a client has approached a professional translator it is because Google Translate cannot do the job as well as a professional human can. The translator’s service is therefore just as worth paying for as ever it was. 

What does the future hold?

With improvements being made to Google Translate – and similar services – all the time, the translation community is still keeping a way eye on such tools. Though as yet they don’t represent a huge threat, the day may well come when they do. 

Technological singularity – the point at which artificial general intelligence becomes capable of recursive self-improvement – could be as close as 2029. Google’s director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, believes that within 15 years computers will be able to outsmart even the most intelligent humans, including understanding language and learning from experience. Singularity raises many questions and the future of the translation industry is certainly amongst them. Although if Terminator movie fans are to be believed then at that time we may all be more worried about the future of the world! 

Final thoughts

How has Google Translate affected your career? What impact do you think it will have on the translation profession in future? Share your thoughts via the comments.

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.

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