CIS News

Are interpreters and translators doomed to extinction?

Posted: September 18, 2017

Artificial intelligence is changing the world. It is expected that optometrists will be obsolete in less than 7 years as will 70% of the legal profession, and truck, bus and taxi drivers will disappear in the foreseeable future.

The business events industry will also be impacted by change. One area that may disppear is human interpreters/translators.

The traditional conference interpreting setting includes the need to erect sound proof booths and providing infra-red receivers and headsets for delegates. This is a very costly exercise.

The rapid development of smart technology will enable organisers to look for more innovative and affordable channels to bridge the gap in communicating the message. Remote interpreting is one of them.

Remote interpreting uses a cloud-based platform allowing interpreters to work from any location, not just in the venue. Delegates use smartphones, tablets or laptops to access the content. The platform can be accessed via mobile app or Firefox/Chrome browser. It can be connected with a mobile app downloaded for free for both iOS and Android devices. The platform also enables the audience and the speakers to participate remotely in conferences, which opens up a whole new approach to delivering content.

However, remote interpreting is still experimental technology and is not without its challenges. First it requires a very fast speed and stable internet connection. As interpretation is a cognitive task, the interpreters require consistent and clear sound quality.

For now, most of the meetings, especially incentive events, still required interpreters to be present on site to facilitate communication and, in particular, negotiations.

It is not only the skill to interpret the words communicated, but there is also a complex interpersonal and inter-cultural requirement. The choice of interpreter is not only based on their language pro ciency but also a well-balanced personality is required to ensure both a professional and seamless communication delivery.

At the recent Institute of Internal Auditors, simultaneous interpreting service was provided for over 120 Korean delegates. Delegates from other countries enquired about Arabic, Bahasa Indonesia, Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin languages. This demonstrates that while English is the accepted language for business, there is still a way to go before interpreting is no longer a requirement.

As for arti cial intelligence, who knows when it will replace interpreters? For now the human approach is still the preferred option.

Dr Yvonne Hu, Managing Director, Conference Interpreter Services

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