Can Translation Services Industry Survive ChatGPT?

We’ve been hearing this in a variety of contexts, most notably in movies and television series where AI can override human restrictions and act independently to ‘save’ humanity. Well, guess what? The age of artificial intelligence has arrived. Surprise! Can the document translation services industry survive ChatGPT?

At the time of this writing, it’s safe to estimate that you’ve heard of ChatGPT that is all the rage right now.

I’m not writing this to advocate for ChatGPT. I’m not even writing this to belittle ChatGPT. Instead, I want to find out if ChatGPT will replace the market for document translation services industry.

Why? That’s how I earn a living, I suppose. My clients value my ability to match appropriate human translators to their industry and business-specific jargon so they can stay one step ahead of rivals in the global marketplace.

Therefore it seems to reason that I would be interested in learning what would happen to me if AI decides it needs to protect my clients from me?

I can’t help but wonder if psychologists share the general public’s relief at having access to search engines to conduct self-help searches for their issues?

I also wonder if auto assembly workers felt the same way when robots were the trend for assembling cars?

If I didn’t tell you that this time, the sensation is a little more genuine, I’d be lying. Seriously, ChatGPT has only been around for little over a year and it’s already producing a tsunami in the corporate world.

Can Translation Services Industry Survive ChatGPT?

Should YOU Be Worried?

Business Insider claims that ChatGPT and other AI tools are prepared to replace the following kinds of jobs:

  1. Tech jobs (coders, data analysts, etc)
  2. Media jobs (advertising, content creation, writing, etc)
  3. Legal jobs (paralegals, legal assistants, etc)
  4. Market research analysts
  5. Teachers
  6. Financial jobs (analysts, personal financial advisors, etc)
  7. Traders
  8. Graphic designers
  9. Accountants
  10. Customer service agents

Did you notice number 2? That category includes my industry (document translation service). 

It’s no secret that many people have been translating informal or personal content for years utilizing free online translation tools.

With ChatGPT, though, things seem different. 

What happens if one of my clients chooses to translate their legal agreement using ChatGPT instead? Or if they choose to use ChatGPT to translate their product manuals? 

One of my friends and the President of Legalease Solutions, Tariq Hafeez, frequently works with legal departments to provide them with scalable legal solutions. Is his employment in danger? Should he be concerned?

He says that, “ChatGPT has overnight altered the perception of what is possible with artificial intelligence across industries including the legal industry. Within 4 weeks of its release, a couple of  law professors used ChatGPT to demonstrate that it could successfully pass the bar exam. Legal tech companies have already incorporated ChatGPT to help draft and negotiate contracts, and others are using it to reduce voluminous document review projects. AI is the future and it will force service providers like LegalEase to change, adapt and ultimately improve or face eventual extinction.”

If I was a betting man (I am not), I’d wager that we all have friends or family members whose jobs might be in danger as a result of AI tools. 

Some Observations

Let’s think for a moment about the following questions: 

  1. Have psychologists lost their relevance?
  2. Did paralegals lose their significance?
  3. Did translators lose their usefulness?
  4. Do you believe that software developers will become obsolete?
  5. Do you genuinely believe that educators will become unnecessary?
  6. Do you believe that non-IT staff in a global company are going to sit there and use ChatGPT to write software for the company?

Can Translation Services Industry Survive ChatGPT?

Since I’ve been in the document translation service industry for nearly 20 years I can tell you first hand that I have heard numerous times that free translation tools will replace human translators. 

Yet, there is a growing need for human translators and interpreters.

Frequently, my clients keep me so busy that I can’t tell if the salt n pepper in my hair is genetic or due to their demands.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment of interpreters and translators is projected to grow 20 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.”

It could be argued that the research cited above did not consider ChatGPT’s impact on the business world.

Even so, do you really believe that a multinational corporation will employ a translation tool like ChatGPT to translate and publish its product manuals, website content, or legal agreements into many languages and countries? 

I have my doubts. And so do most of my translators. 

I did a test run with ChatGPT where we asked it to translate a 50 word paragraph (see below) into 5 languages: Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese. 

Source Text for Translation Test on  ChatGPT:

The new RotoAdjust offers state-of-the-art Industry 4.0 automation and data analytics to run better, faster and smarter. Featuring plug-and-play automation, job storing and recall and advanced IOT software that monitors your die station performance and alerts your operators when critical maintenance needs arise, the new RotoAdjust lets you unlock tomorrow’s automation potential today!

First of all, I had to wait around an hour before using ChatGPT. Why? It was at capacity and there was nothing I could do.

But once it became available, I didn’t notice the ability to upload a document. Instead, I had to copy and paste the paragraph. 

According to what I know about my clients, they simply lack the time to use a translation tool that requires them to process one paragraph at a time. 

Even if they were able to find the time, how would they manage the formatting and layout of the translated text into a cohesive target document?

Just because you can easily format a document in English doesn’t mean you will be able to do it in foreign languages too. 

Consider translating a 20-page document into several different languages. Do we anticipate someone from the marketing department at our client site translating the full content using ChatGPT one paragraph at a time? What about matching the layout and formatting for each language with the source document?

All of a sudden, using ChatGPT to produce real world documents in foreign languages doesn’t look too appealing.

Can Translation Services Industry Survive ChatGPT?

Spanish Translation Result on ChatGPT

ChatGPT’s ability to translate text into Spanish is the closest thing to a translation done by an inexperienced human translator that can be fixed by a well experienced human editor. Was the translation understandable? Yes. Would I publish it into the public domain as a document for my customers? No.

French, German, and Italian Result on ChatGPT

French, German, and Italian do not fare as well. The translation sounded robotic. Sentences were awkwardly put together and words were out of context. All in all, any reader of the translation would know right away that this was translated by some type of a translation tool.

What impact will that perception create for a global brand?

Chinese and Japanese Result on ChatGPT

When it comes to Chinese and Japanese, the translations produced by ChatGPT were simply inaccurate and made no sense in any way. All in all, ChatGPT is not ready for action when it comes to Asian (and other right to left) languages.

Natural Language Processing (NLP) Has Improved

It’s true that natural language processing (NLP) methods have come a long way and will keep improving. That’s why no one will say how long the translation services industry will be around. It may be 5 years. Or 10 years. Or 50 years. Or 100 years. No one knows for certain. And if someone tells you otherwise, my suggestion to you would be to start running in the opposite direction.

Let’s keep in mind one crucial factor. 

AI and NLP need to be trained using pre-existing data tagged with certain properties. This means that these tools “guess” or “estimate” how to process the query you’re asking by using the data and tags that were used to train them. And while some AI tools can learn in real time, legal ramifications would force global brands to be careful using them as a primary source for translating global documents.

Do you believe your business will use ChatGPT to translate product manuals into Japanese or French? If so, would you feel comfortable releasing this translated product manual into the public domain? 

This is a valid use case question. And I just don’t see global brands relying on ChatGPT as their primary source for translating documents into multiple languages.

Global brands depend on me to faithfully translate their product manuals, contracts, and website copy so they can conduct business successfully in numerous countries without legal ramifications or negatively impacting their brand.

What happens when the AI tool is not properly trained for your specific lingo or tone? Will it spit out robotic sounding word for word translation? 

If so, how will my clients know that the translation is not good? What about the impact on their global brand? If they put out incorrect translations into the public domain are they then opening themselves up for possible lawsuits?

These and other similar questions need to be carefully considered.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, I think in order to employ tools like ChatGPT without compromising quality, the document translation services industry will need to create new workflows and tools.

Perhaps a new type of software can be developed that is best of both worlds: AI capabilities and human translation capabilities?

Until then, I would urge my clients to get in touch with me before entrusting the translation of their important documents to AI software. I would not want them to publish inaccurate translations where actual individuals could be negatively impacted by poor translations.

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