An incident involving a fight, someone who wanted to help, a gun, police, and machine translation (MT) recently made the rounds on several social media platforms. And it only came to light, because the expert witness, David Utrilla, CEO of language service provider US Translation Company, who was called to testify about speech technology and MT, wrote about it on LinkedIn (keeping confidentiality, of course). His testimony ultimately led to the acquittal of the (wrongfully) arrested non-English speaker.
You can read the detailed article on MultiLingual here.
While the story shows quite dramatically how important it is not to rely on technology too much when it comes to communication beyond relatively simple and informal conversation, the last sentence in the article mentioned above is one that cannot be repeated and shared enough:
“To translators and interpreters, I want to say: ‘You are not obsolete, you are important, you are needed, and you will be needed always.’ ”
I say this to my students often, and sometimes I feel like they don’t quite believe me. And looking at the advances MT has made in recent years, that is understandable. However, while there certainly are use cases for it, as long as humans are involved in the communication equation (which will be the case until computers truly become not only intelligent but also sentient), human translators and interpreters will be needed to make sure this communication can happen at the required level, including all meaning and emotion underlying and behind the mere words.
So dear colleagues and colleagues-to-be: Take heart, our future is secure! Different from what we may have thought a few years ago, true, but secure nonetheless!