The Value of People Remains Despite Growth of Machine Translation Market

Global and Localization Association

By Jeremy Coombs

New reports forecast growth of the machine translation market at nearly 25 percent in the next four years, with technological improvements likely along the way. With such expectations, it’s tempting to believe computers will soon translate well enough that there will be no need for human translators.

It’s not time to give up on humans in the near future, however. While technology such as machine translation plays an important role in making valuable content in one language accessible to all, humans specialized in their native languages, cultures, and fields of expertise still need to be involved in the majority of translations. This is especially true for intellectual property, particularly patent applications, where even one mistranslated word can result in invalidated patents and millions of lost revenue.

Consider the following points:

1. Machine translation uses the past as its guide
Every year, Oxford Dictionary announces a list of the world’s new words. For example, in 2014, the new word used most often (twice as much as it was in 2013) was “vape,” as in electronic cigarettes. Selfie, the 2013 word, increased 17,000 percent in use over two years, before it reached the top.

So even if you compile a massive database of all language used everywhere today, and update it in real time, it can only tell you how people have used language, not how they are using it today, and definitely not how it is being used tomorrow. In the patent world, we are always working with new inventions, many of which may need to use words in new ways, and perhaps even include new words – language you won’t find in yesterday’s documents.

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