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Should Amazon’s Robotization Concern Other Industries?

Although this question might sound outdated, it is a growing concern and a factor of concern for many people and governments. Since the Industrial revolution back in the 18th century, technological development brought fears regarding the loss of traditional jobs as many new discoveries abolish the need for some services.

Currently, we see that some of the giants of the industry such as Amazon are undergoing ongoing changes in automatization and robotization.

We see that, for example, last Christmas Amazon hired 20 K fewer workers due to the use of robots.

Is the industrial revolution similar to the high-tech revolution we are witnessing today?

The answer is uncertain, in the times of the industrial revolution, the evolution of industry was able to generate more work, and although some workers lost their jobs, there was an increase in production, this made the industrial revolution a key point in our history and a major improver of the quality of life. On the same topic, the high-tech revolution was able to introduce a faster and more efficient supply of products around the world as well as easier monitoring of the quality of products. Having said that, we can see many downsides to this revolution even in the quality of products, I will give a very easy example:

In the clothing sector, automatization, globalization, and computerization have been able to drop the prices of clothing to very low prices. The quality dropped dramatically as well, we can say today that the industry failed to deliver quality, at the same time, many people lost their profession as a result of this process as they couldn’t compete with giant industry companies.

So where is the danger in the process taking place and why should we be ready that it will impact us in all fields including the translation industry?

Before the recent high-tech evolution took place, changes happened, phones replaced mail, for example, plains replaced ships and computers replaced big amounts of files and papers. But all of these changes happened at a slow pace, people have been warned, and accordingly, people acquired new skills and find new jobs in other fields.

So How does this apply to us in the translation world?

The baby’s name is CAT (Computer-assisted translation) tool, this scary large name sounds confusing, so let me try to simplify it for you, what are the goals of CAT tools?

A-Fast translation

B- efficient translation

C-Cheaper translation

D-Quality translation

Now that we know the goals of the manufacturers we can jump into the options CAT proposed since it was first introduced, more than a decade ago.

1- Spelling and Grammar checkers – this tool was introduced more than 15 years ago and indeed was probably one of the most successful, there is no translator that will disagree to use a spelling and grammar checker as it is a very efficient tool that tests the attention of the translator majorly, allows a thinking process to take place by the translator and doesn’t impose itself usually on him, in case the translator thinks differently.

2- Electronic dictionaries are also another successful tool that was introduced over two decades ago and is being used successfully since then, electronic dictionaries make the research of translators much easier, and faster, save time, and provide quality.

3- Full-text search tools, tools that introduce full-text search for clients so that they are able to find already translated texts and use them or acquire them, this tool can be helpful for clients.

4- Bitext aligner is a tool that puts two texts (source and target translation) near each other aligned, this technique is used today by most providers of CAT tools. Out of my personal experience, the translation process, if performed without the help of any automatic translation tools, is not easier in with this app but, on the contrary, it is many times slower, because frequently the translator sees only one sentence and not the whole paragraph, many times after understanding the whole idea of the paragraph you have to go back and amend the translation accordingly.

So why do so many suppliers use this tool?

This takes us to the most important and debatable topic of the CAT tools, translation memory, many big translation companies are using a Bitext aligner tool as it is easy, with this algorithm, to map the translator’s style of translation and his techniques so that the next time if there is a text that matches the precious one, he won’t be paid for this translation, but rather the computer will be translating it automatically.

So why is this a topic for debate, apparently, there is a huge profit here that made major translation companies enthusiastic about getting engaged with such products? To whom does the translation belong after all?

The translation is an intellectual product that was sold from party A ( translation company and translators ) to Party B, as the company sold the product and is usually not the intellectual producer of it, it should be the last party that is to have further gains from it in the future, in case it will make any profit, it should share that profit with the producer and the buyer of the job as long such a profit exists.

So how can we generate such a fair legal system?

It’s nearly impossible, first of all, as most translators know, 100% matches many times don’t mean anything, many times two identical sentences should be translated differently depending on the overall context. Another problematic thing is that most of the clients unlike the translators are not aware of this fact.

After this small review, was the CAT tool able to achieve the goals?

Fast translation (A)- thanks mainly to the online dictionaries and the grammar and spelling checkers, the translation process is faster and indeed more efficient (B).

Cheaper translation (C)- this topic is debatable, translation fees dropped indeed as the competition is growing and translation memories are able to lower the translator’s fees. On the other hand, translation memories are not able to reach specialized areas with the same rate of success, and if used in such areas, the quality (D) of the translations usually drops drastically, as we see over and over with many companies that offer very low rates in specialized industries like the pharma, medical and law translations.

So what is my suggestion to fairly solve this enigma of the translation memory for all sides?

As I believe the translation memory is an intellectual treasure for all translators, there should be a non-profit organization, constructed by governments, that will provide a translation memory, and update it every while, for each certified translator. This will solve the unfair earnings made by major parties and will let everyone enjoy technological advancements.

So how should 100% matches be handled?

In case there is an automatic discount that takes place in such cases, I suggest this should be canceled. In many cases, especially in specialized and complicated translations, even if there is a total match between the paragraphs, the proper translation might be different eventually. There should be a built-in program that will check whether the translator used the automated translation or not and then pay him accordingly.

What is the influence of CAT on all sides?

According to official numbers, the translation industry is still able to generate a stable growth of between 2-3% a year. This growth is being translated into a growth of the revenue of a small portion of the leading translation companies, while on the other hand translators are facing new challenges as the companies are demanding lower and lower rates due to the translation memories and other CAT tools.

At the same time, the translators are expected to adapt to the ongoing changes promptly, acquire (in most cases) the translation tools at their own expense, attend high-tech courses, at their own expense, to be able to operate these tools, furthermore, as rates drop, they are expected to translate higher volumes to be able to earn an appropriate amount of money for living.


What should we do?

As in any field, technology creates a new reality, this reality creates a situation in which the current legislation system is irrelevant. That’s why we should consider new legislation, like the one I suggested above, to take place in order to protect all parties and especially the small and weaker ones that currently are being abused.

Having said that, the translation community like any other community has to accept the changes and accommodate itself accordingly.

Translators should try to push their own associations and organizations in order to provide them with legal protection, counseling, and subsidized educational courses which are very important nowadays when the market is so flexible and demanding.

What about the field of medical translations?

As the field of medical translations is an area of intersection with the pharmaceutical and healthcare fields, which both are strictly regulated fields, we can see that the impacts of the latter are still prominent.

High-tech is trying to invade the world of pharma and clinical trials, lately, Amazon entered the healthcare market mainly from the pharmaceutical field, but it’s still a highly regulated process, as clinical trials are very complicated processes that need, fairly, a lot of quality controls, special approvals and validations and more. Furthermore, the participation of actual human participants in the process is mandatory, as drugs and therapies will actually eventually be tested on humans.

As to medical translations, we do see some of the back clashes of the CAT tools and mainly the notorious by now, translation memories. However, as the proper linguistic processes and protocols are still to be respected, the impact of such changes is small and slow.

I think, as mentioned above, that medical translation dictionaries and memories should be shared by an official governmental entity, with all translators and relevant translation agencies in order to enable standardization of the medical language, enable the same resources for everyone, and thus fair competition and higher quality and on the way a fair handling of the intellectual contribution of everyone. Perhaps we can try to implement this in our field before introducing the idea to the whole industry.

What do you think?


Workers to Amazon: ‘We are not robots!’


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