In the last few years a lot has been made about what provides better translation technology; machine translation software or the human brain.
And I agree, there are definite use cases where machine translation software is a better translation technology than the human translators (think translating large volumes of text quickly for multiple languages). But we can’t say with certainty that the quality of the machine translation technology would be as good or better than human translation.
Why is that? Well…the human brain gets in the way. Not to sound cliché, but the most sophisticated translation technology on earth….is still the human brain.
I’ll prove this to you by comparing four (4) functions that are used by human translators and machine translation software to translate content.
- Processing speed
- Energy efficiency
Storage – It is fair to say that most of us can get by with 500GB of storage in our computer. But for the creatives, gamers, and data-heavy folks, there’s always room for additional storage on the cloud or on a portable SSD. So to make it interesting we can say that your computer has 1 TB of storage space.
How about the brain’s storage capacity? Allow me to chime in.
There are multiple estimations in terms of how many nerve cells (neurons) there are in a typical brain. Some studies have suggested 100 billion neurons. But a study done by Stanford University estimates that the brain has around 200 billion neurons.
But you must be thinking to yourself, how in the world are bytes used in the computing world comparable to neurons used in the human world?
One difference agreed upon by most scientists between the human brain and computer flash memory is that neurons can combine together to create and store memories. Get this, each neuron has around a thousand connections to other neurons. In total, there are over a trillion neuron connections in a typical human brain.
This phenomenon creates a V.E.R.Y. large storage capacity. Moreover, our understanding of neurons as of today is very limited, but for the sake of comparison, we could estimate that our brain’s storage capacity is 1 petabyte.
Well…1 petabyte is equivalent to more than a thousand 1 TB SSDs.
So..yeah…the advantage in storage goes to the human brain.
And so far that evens out the score. The typical human brain has tons more storage capacity than the average computer. And a computer can process information a lot faster than a human brain.
Processing Speed – I think we can all agree that computers can kick butt when it comes to processing speed. Just to give you an idea, our brains are able to perform a thousand basic operations per second, at most. And this is about 10 million times slower than the typical computer.
Moreover, a typical computer is able to do many complex tasks simultaneously (multitasking) that are difficult for the brain. Case in point, see if you can count backwards from 100 to 1 and multiply 2 numbers at the same time. But it’s not all dark and gloomy. Our brains do some multitasking too; using the nervous system. The brain controls breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure at the same time it does the mental task. All in all, the clear advantage goes to the computer when it comes to processing speed. And that’s why machine translation software can translate a LOT of text into multiple languages simultaneously.
Memory – But when it comes to memory, do you think a human is able to recall information faster and better than a computer?
The short answer depends on what type of information we are talking about! But the final answer is a definite no. Why? Well…just imagine for a split second, if the computer ‘knows’ that the capital of Michigan is Lansing then this fact will always be accessible. But a human may get confused, or worse yet, forget this fact over time. Particularly after spending a day skiing in one of Michigan’s beautiful ski resorts!
With that being said, computers do lag behind humans in being able to assign qualitative ranking to information.
You know…a computer is the great equalizer because it ‘sees’ and ‘processes’ all information in the exact same way. But we humans on the other hand, store different types of information that become memories and we tend to prioritize memories based on their importance for us.
Because let’s face it, you will remember a gazillion details about your wedding day. Or when your first child was born. Or when you pulled an all nighter for your Philosophy exam that you barely passed with a C. But can you remember what you had for lunch last Tuesday?
We humans often relate memories to one another. That’s why your memories of New Year’s Eve celebrations will tie together throughout the course of your life. But can a computer also tie memories together? Not yet. But maybe in the future? So as of right now this is a tie game when it comes to memory!
Energy Efficiency – It might be a tie game so far, but the final result is still up in the air! Computers are faster and more precise. Humans have more storage capacity and have nuance in creating and accessing memories.
But what about energy efficiency? This is where it gets exciting. A typical computer runs at about 100 watts of power. A human brain, however, needs about 10 watts of power. Yup, you read that right. Your brain is about 10 times more energy efficient than a computer. In other words, your brain needs less energy than a lightbulb.
At the time of this writing, the human brain gets the edge simply because of energy efficiency. But don’t let that fool you. Fact of the matter is that computers and brains excel at different tasks. However, there are some similarities as well. Both use electrical signals to send messages. Both transmit information. Both have a memory that can grow. Both can adapt and learn. Both have evolved over time. Both need energy. Both can be damaged. Both can change and be modified. Both can do math and other logical tasks. And the list can go on and on.
When it comes to translating your content, human translators are better at producing flawless translations, albeit one language pair at a time.
Computers (machine translation software) are faster at translating a lot of text into multiple languages at the same time. But the translations might not be fully accurate and the context of the source text might not be present in the translated text.
So, if you have lots of text where an accurate translation is not needed, then it might make good sense to use machine translation software followed by a human editor.
But if you need a flawless translation (think legal agreements, product / user manuals, website copy, and HR communications), then stick to human translators.
Whether you want to translate your documents using machine translation software or want to have your formal documents translated by human translators; EPIC Translations can help your brand kick butt in the global marketplace. We have 20,000 + human translators ready to translate….your documents. And we also have a strategic partnership with Systran to help you translate your documents using AI driven machine translation software. This software is SO GOOD that even the pentagon uses it. Contact us today for a free / no obligation quote. We even translate free samples of your text so you could assess our quality first hand!