Just the Facts: How Reliable Is AI Translation?

Language, Translation Procurement

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the driving force behind the digital revolution.

This process touches all facets of our lives and disrupts industries across the globe. One can harness this technology to prepare morning coffee, conduct market analysis, and do everything in between. AI translation is also on the list of possibilities.

We all know services like Google Translate does the trick when we need something simple. But, should you trust AI to translate important legal documents, medical reports, and such?

The answer certainly isn’t a resounding yes.

Modern technology has come a long way, but it’s far from perfect. Here is what you need to know about it to make an informed decision.

AI Translation in a Nutshell

In the presence of shiny online tools, paperback dictionaries may seem like a relic of the ancient past.

AI and machine learning (ML) don’t need these resources to work their magic. In fact, they can create bilingual dictionaries from scratch without human assistance.

We merely have to feed these engines with data, lots of it.

Technology then does all the heavy lifting. First off, it recognizes words in a variety of different languages. The range is pretty imposing, and it’s constantly increasing.

Next off, AI cross-references the text with a myriad of other texts and documents. The goal is to detect relationships between words and similarities that exist across different languages.

There are a few other techniques proven to work. Back translation, for instance, involves translating a sentence back and forth between two languages. If at any point the discrepancy from the original sentence occurs, it signals that a mistake has been made.

Denoising is another example. It involves AI tweaking parts of the sentence (usually a word or two) in order to eliminate errors and redundancies.  

Still a Long Way to Go

A combination of these two and other cutting-edge techniques yields impressive results. 

And tech giants in the league of Facebook and Google are poised to push the boundaries. They threw some of their massive weight behind AI and ML platforms in recent years.

These developments have led some to proclaim the new age in translation. Such a notion is fashionable but largely premature.

We shouldn’t confuse buzz and potential with hard facts. Human translators aren’t going out of business any time soon. When given enough time, they outperform AI in any kind of translation.

One contest in South Korea between humans and machines proved this. AI software scored only half as many points as its flesh-and-bone counterparts did.

The main lesson to draw is that technology isn’t infallible and lags behind human capabilities.  

Beyond Face Value

The thing with automated translation is that it looks good at first glance.

Alas, a deeper analysis reveals AI doesn’t pick up on subtle nuances in languages. It can’t carry out language expansion and struggles to grasp the broader context in which words exist.

Even its grammar command is clumsy, to say the least. The natural tone is missing more often than not too. So, while the general message is there, the devil is in all the sketchy detail.

What implications does this have for your translation needs?

Well, it would be wise to hire human translators when tackling big projects. In general, mass localization gives poor results, although they vary from one language to another.

Let’s say you want to expand into new markets and translate your website. An AI platform could definitely do it and free of charge too.

The only problem is native speakers would find a bunch of mistakes, both minor and significant. This inconsistency prevents you from coming across as a professional, trustworthy organization.

    Advantages of Using AI

    That said, the gap between humans and technology is narrowing with each passing day.

    Computer scientists are figuring out ways to make AI more adept at understanding natural language. AI and ML capabilities are advancing rapidly. The more data they can crunch, the more effective they become at jobs they’re designed for.

    They essentially learn and re-program themselves with each completed project.

    Besides, translation tools have a unique advantage of being lightning-fast. You have to do little more than copying and pasting the text. The tools automatically detect language, and once you hit “Translate”, the results arrive in a matter of split second.

    What is more, there’s no shortage of solutions that are either quite affordable or free. This makes them far more cost-effective than humans, especially when dealing with a large volume of text.

    Google Translate is probably the most effective consumer-level tool. Everyone who has been using it for a while admits the AI core got progressively better.

    Since 2016, it harnesses natural machine translation (NMT).

    This deep learning method, which scours a wealth of linguistic sources, has been adopted by other services as well. It’s now a gold standard in the realm of AI translation. 

    Final Considerations

    Notice we didn’t say Google translate is a professional or enterprise-grade tool.

    It’s better suited for everyday and informal use. So, you should use it sparingly or go for some combination of automated and AI testing.

    It also makes sense to do that when you can’t find translators in specific languages. After all, Google’s tool supports 108 languages, and it’s just one of the options in the market.  

    Another sound tactic is to reserve AI for personal needs or doing initial, rough work. Humans can do proofreading and post-editing later to iron out any mistakes. You don’t overpay them to translate everything and at the same time, you steer clear of risks associated with automation.  

    So, do your homework. Compare the costs of potentially bad translation (and correcting it) to the costs of paying for a translator. That should help you make the right call.

    AI Translation: A Powerful, Imperfect Tool

    AI is making giant strides and in the foreseeable future, it could become a highly-reliable translator.

    Not only that, but it might be able to match human-level precision. AI translation already has two great advantages—cheapness and quickness.

    For now, however, major problems remain, such as subpar accuracy and uncanny tone. If you want to play it safe, you should leave important tasks to humans. When we say humans, we mean professional and educated native speakers.

    They are specialists in overcoming language barriers and ward off misunderstandings.

    Get in touch with us if you seek a blend of human and machine-driven translation. Our service offers the best of both worlds.