On March 22-24 (2017), fifty people came together in a former clandestine church in Amsterdam to break their heads on the question how the translation industry will have changed in 2022. The story that came out can be read as an ordinary battle between man and machine, with a victory for the latter. But at a deeper layer, there is a fascinating intrigue with many threads about game-changing technologies and trends and an outcome that is perplexing even for all of us who think that they are behind the wheel today. Be careful what you wish for.
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It was Renato (Beninatto) who reminded me, in the ‘Future’ panel discussion in Dublin, that only eleven years ago (when the TAUS think tank was founded) nobody - in his right mind - would think about using machine translation (MT) technology on any job anywhere. And now? Now MT is everywhere. Insiders say that everyday computers translate 200 Billion words. That is 100 times more than the output of all human translators together. MT is everywhere and always there, except … well, except the professionals seem to have their doubts. That makes me think that the state of the industry could be better.
* The title is borrowed from an article written by Bill Joy (then Chief Scientist at Sun Microsystems) and published in Wired Magazine in April 2000. (Why the future does not need us). This article was somewhat gloomy, giving us a warning about a future in which machines essentially dominate us, humans. “We must do more thinking up front if we are not to be (…) surprised and shocked by the consequences of our inventions.” Projecting this fundamental and existential problem on our own sector, the field of translation, could easily lead to depressing and devastating visions of the translation industry in the coming decades, and as a result put us – everyone working in this industry – in a defensive and reactive or inactive state of mind. What we much rather do is be realistic about it, have an open mind about both the upsides and the downsides. The future may not need us, but we certainly need a future.