The question of whether translation tools (and technology in general) threaten translation depends on many different factors, and, basically, on how people conceive their purpose. The answer is indissolubly tied to how effectively the involved parties can leverage the advantages of technology, identify its disadvantages and set the limits.
The first great impact
If we take a step back and consider when technology first impacted the translation process, we will be able to see the big benefits it has brought about: the broad use of the Internet, even if not a translation-specific tool, resulted to a tremendous change in translation, compared to the old-fashioned, paper-based ways, in terms of quantity, speed and quality in search. There was an exponential increase in the volumes of information available to linguists. Search became much easier and much more effective, as huge amounts of data, with multiple possibilities of customization, were made instantly and directly accessible.
The introduction of the translation tools
At a later stage, translation-specific technology, namely the CAT tools, offered many valuable advantages to all players of the translation production cycle. Linguists were able to accumulate their knowledge and previous research effort, store it and organize it in a way they could easily retrieve and reuse it in the future. They could therefore eliminate repetitive work, increase their speed, reduce turnaround times for their clients and, of course, keep consistency – one of the most painful tasks in many types of content.
This, of course, means savings in time and cost for all involved parties in the translation process. This also means ability to focus on brand new content. As there are still huge volumes of untranslated content, clients will normally be more willing to push this content into production in the near future. This is what happened during the last few years and will probably continue to happen, given that major providers in different fields of specialization have realized the importance of localization. Based on the above, translation technology is clearly a faster way to growth.
Machine Translation: the next big step
The natural evolution of CAT tools was the development of Machine Translation systems. At this point, and especially at the earliest stages of the development, the usefulness of technology started to be questioned. Many linguists thought it really threatened translation as it aimed to replace the human brain. In fact, there is still no machine that can catch all nuances and intangible elements of a language and adapt them in a different language. Even the more “flat” texts evoke specific feelings and emotions that should be properly conceived and transferred. So there is no way for machines to “threaten” translation.
However, this doesn’t mean that the MT technology can’t be fruitful, especially if linguists are constantly involved in the MT development. Instead of being skeptical about machines, we should rather make them work for us. What might need to change is the way linguists offer their knowledge. Some years ago, it might have been difficult to perceive how CAT tools would increase efficiency and profitability, not only for clients but also for linguists. Nowadays, a considerable part of linguists cannot imagine their lives without translation tools.
So is technology threatening or assisting translation?
The fundamental purpose of technology is to be continuously aligned with the challenges of the market and contribute dynamically to the linguists’ efforts for high quality services – and not just to cut costs by delivering automated results in one step. The only thing that can downgrade its usefulness is the lack of understanding of its real mission. When used effectively, technology can bring exclusively positive results and is really a valuable and profitable investment for all involved parties.