Musings on Machine Translation

At the reccent OTTIAQ Conference, the keynote speaker – Pierre Isabelle of the National Research Center Canada – talked about machine translation (MT) and suggested new approaches that may allow translators to incorporate MT into their work. The fact that the conference organizers chose to open a conference attended mainly by freelance translators with a talk on MT ties in nicely with my efforts to establish communication between “human translators” and MT developers, which until very recently was virtually non-existent. In my role as the President of ATA (American Translators Association), I reached out to Laurie Gerber, then the President of IAMT (International Association for Machine Translation) and also Past President of AMTA (Association for Machine Translation in the Americas), and we agreed that it would be good to have MT representatives give presentations at translation association events and vice versa, which we also successfully implemented. Among other things, the AMTA Summit will be collocated with the ATA Conference in Denver in 2010. The outcomes of the dialogue that ensued were quite interesting. For example, MT developers learned that translators are not interested in post-editing of MT output, and translators learned that human translation versus MT is not a zero-sum proposition (where more MT equals less work for translators); rather, it creates markets that have not existed before. In other words, translators should view MT as an opportunity rather than a threat. By the same token, MT developers should not expect translators to post-edit; this will be done by a new breed of linguists, and translators will continue to do what they enjoy the most and what they are good at: translating.

Jiri Stejskal