I read on a blog post from 2010 yesterday a modest prediction that within a few years, 90 percent of “LSPs” (Language Services Providers) would be out of business because they will be replaced by companies using customized machine translation systems. This prediction was made, surprise, surprise, by a guy who is selling customized machine translation systems.
First of all, I never use the term “LSPs” which was originally crafted in the nineties at some conference to include both freelance translators and translation agencies if I remember correctly what Chris Durban, a well known financial translator based in Paris, once said in a comment on my blog, because the word “LSPs”, which is now a synonym for the more accurate term “translation agencies”. “LSP” is these days used to distinguish translation agencies from freelance translators, although many freelance translators are at the same time also translation agencies, present party included.
I think the term was designed primarily to avoid the use of the more accurate term “translation agency” and somehow make it seem that it is the agency rather than the translator who is the real provider of translations.
Since the real providers of translations are obviously translators, not the agencies, I have suggested that the term “LSRs” (Language Services Resellers) would be perhaps more appropriate, although the term “translation agency” is obviously the best because nobody outside of the translation industry understands the abbreviation “LSP” anyway although it has been thrown around by agencies and translators alike for something like 20 years.
Secondly, this particular salesman of customized machine translation systems estimated in that particular post, which is now 2 years old, that there were about 10,000 “LSPs” in business at that point. I take it he meant translation agencies worldwide.
How the hell did he count them? If you look in your local Yellow Pages, the chances are that you will be able to count at least half a dozen “LSPs” right where you live, many more if you live in a metropolitan area, although most translation providers no longer even advertise in Yellow Pages. I certainly don’t. It is a waste of money because unlike in the 20th century, you are much better off these days if you have a well designed website.
I think that there must be more than a hundred thousands translation agencies on this planet, from Puget Sound to Punjab and from Beijing to Brusselles, some kind of big and some kind of small. Although probably at least 20 percent of them do go out of business every year, they die not because they have been replaced by customized machine translation systems, but because they fail to identify suitable clients and keep these clients happy.
It would be so nice if it were possible to replace human brain by customized software in language translation, wouldn’t it, especially since this is something that already happened in so many fields. Bank tellers became all but extinct as most of them were replaced by ATMs and software many years ago. So did phone operators, for example, as well as many mid level managers.
Our modern version of corporate capitalism loves machines that do the same job that humans used to do, except virtually for free. As human labor was first outsourced to wherever it was cheapest, every couple of decades it was moved to different countries, first to Mexico, then to India and China. Next decade, who knows … Vietnam and North Korea? I hear the labor cost is much cheaper there and best of all, workers in prisons there have to work for free! That’s even cheaper than child labor!! Booyah!!!
If you can replace dirt cheap labor by customized software, it’s cheaper still. It must be music to the ears of thrifty managers responsible for translations in large companies when they hear that they can save all this money that they have been spending on human translation by simply purchasing a customized machine translation system.
Are they buying? I don’t know. If the types of businesses that sell these machine translation systems are still in business although machine translation systems such as Google Translate (Mox calls it “Gurgle Translate!!!) or Microsoft Translator and many other systems are available for Internet for free, some companies must be buying them.
But were 20 percent of translators like you and me already replaced in the past two years by customized machine translation software? What do you think, gentle reader? Do you know a translator who has been replaced in this manner? If so, I hope you will leave a comment on my blog.
I personally think that because it is kind of really, really difficult to replace human brain such as yours or mine by software, no matter how carefully and craftily the software has been designed, the real question is how many businesses selling customized machine translation system will be still gracing this planet with their presence eight years from now.
After all, since Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, Babelfish and many other machine translation systems are available on the Internet for free, it would be hard to compete with them on price, and for machine translation systems, they work pretty well.