Posted by: patenttranslator | July 31, 2016

Big Data and Little Translators – a Marriage Made in Heaven or Hell?

Every few months, the ATA publishes an article representing the views of “the translation industry”, or what the ATA euphemistically calls “stakeholders”, i.e. members of the American Translators Association who are not translators. Since you don’t have to be a translator to be a member of the ATA, the generic term du jour for the many non-translating members of the American Translators Association is at this point “stakeholders”. I wrote several posts on my silly blog on the subject of propagandistic articles written by these non-translating stakeholders, articles that seem to be aimed mostly at putting translators in their proper place, namely as obedient peons of “the translation industry”, because articles of this type are unfortunately often found in the ATA Chronicle. For example in this post which is now already almost five years old, I compared the propagandistic nature of these articles in the ATA Chronicle to the predictable propaganda saturating our establishment media.

Although the origin of the term Big Data relates to automatic correlation of market trends, customer preferences and other characteristics useful for businesses, the name “big data” itself seems to have been designed to impress potential “translation industry” stakeholder clients and to intimidate little translators at the same time. If I am not mistaken, it is also supposed to replace what used to be called “content tsunami” a few years ago. The name suggests to me, and probably to most people, Orwell’s Big Brother and his style of strict enforcement of law and order in a pliant population scared to death by the omnipresent eyes and ears of Big Brother who is armed with big data and other diabolical tools.

My simple mind naturally cannot even begin to understand all the cool details and fascinating implications of WHAT BIG DATA MEANS TO THE LANGUAGE SECTOR, as per the title of the last section in the article by Don DePalma in the July/August issue of the ATA Chronicle.

Perhaps that is why I would find the numbers, statistics, and conclusions of Mr. DePalma for us little translators, quite frightening … if I did not find them at times also more than just a little silly.

As the late, great Miguel Lorens, Spanish-to-English financial translator whose blog was so enjoyable, wrote in 2012 in an article titled “Future Schlock: Common Sense, Nonsense and the Law of Supply and Demand”, basic laws of physics are sometimes simply ignored in Don DePalma’s analyses of things present in order to arrive at the desired conclusions about the cunningly predicted greatness of things to come. This is how Miguel Lorens illustrated DePalma’s approach to reality in the post he wrote four years ago:

” […] Or imagine your friend giving you a tour of his new five-bedroom house. ‘And this is the guest room. However, the law of gravity doesn’t apply here, for whatever reason.’ You peer inside and see a bed, a dresser and a cocker spaniel floating around in zero gravity. What would you do? Would you follow your friend out to the garden to have cocktails as the furniture and the dog float round and round? Or would you devote your entire life to finding out why the law of gravity doesn’t hold in your friend’s guest bedroom?”

The question of, “Where Does Language Fit In with Big Data?” (the somewhat overbearing title – overbearing to language – of the ATA Chronicle article), is of course much less important to us than the question of where do we, little translators, fit in with Big Data?

You probably guessed it already – little translators can only fit in with the Big Data if they are obedient enough to listen to the wise voice of the “translation industry” and become diligent, indefatigable post-processors of the gunk spat out by Big Data.

As Don DePalma puts it, “Big data has increased the volume of content dramatically. At the same time, automated content enrichment and analytical tools based on big-data science, [emphasis mine; I did not know that there was such a science], will enable the training of more sophisticated tools to help humans translate the growing volume of content and enable machines to close the yawning gap between what’s generated and what’s actually translated [emphasis mine again].

Let’s think about this short and relatively simple sentence for a moment. Ok, so the volume of content has dramatically increased. It sounds like an introduction to revolutionary change, but is this change more revolutionary than for example the change involving a dramatically increased volume of data when the Chinese invented paper, replacing stone tablets, bones and tortoise shells, when Guttenberg invented the printing press, when the internet was invented by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), or when the telephone became a tiny portable computer potentially containing hundreds or thousands of apps? And so on and so forth.

More stuff is out there, so new technologies are being developed to do more stuff with the stuff that is out there. When you put it like that, it sounds more like something that has been happening for centuries … because that is all it really is.

Although there is an enormous amount of content floating around in the blogosphere, to select just one part of what is identified in the article as belonging to Big Data, (and some of this content is very interesting), this also means that a lot of it is stuff out there that is completely useless and that will probably never be translated.

So how can one use this content in statistics identifying what needs to be translated and put a price tag on it (as part of Big Data from which profit can be extracted by “the translation industry”) if it is identified by using “automated content enrichment and analytical tools” and such … unless somebody, such as a company CEO, determines that all of the largely useless PR content of a propagandistic corporate blog needs to be translated. Sure, this is likely to happen, but if this content is translated with machine translation and then post-processed by us little translators, will it increase sales or improve the brand image of the company, or will this do the opposite of what was intended?

And if automatic content enrichment (whatever that is) and analytical tools (whatever they are) are used instead of a well functioning human brain to select content to be translated (instead of a CEO’s decision), these tools are guaranteed to pick unnecessary content to generate still more propagandistic PR nonsense, only this time in other languages.

So far I have published exactly 620 posts on my silly blog; this will be my 621st post in five and half years. The reason why about four or five of them have been translated so far into four or five languages with my permission, and probably more without my permission, is that other translators/bloggers wanted to share the content of what I am saying with other translators and bloggers who do not understand English.

It had nothing to do with what is called Big Data, or content tsunami, or automated content enrichment and analytical tools based on “big-data science”.

Instead, it had to do with Small Data, data that is selected by human intellect instead of an algorithm as being important enough to be translated and worth the time of a human translator to do so, even without compensation for a significant amount of work.

To come back to the ATA Chronicle article, the final conclusions in Don DePalma’s article are actually quite hopeful when it comes to prospects for human translators … although I suspect that he might have cunningly incorporated them into the article largely to placate us little translators who read the magazine, and to get us used to the idea that Big Data is really good for us:

Even if machines generated the lion’s share of translation [meaning pseudo-translation, Mad Patent Translator] and humans did a smaller percentage, the sheer absolute volume of human translation would increase for high-value sector such as life sciences, other precise sectors, and belles letters. In turn, the perceived value of human translation would increase. Why? Because when you bring in a live human, it means the transaction is very, very important …

As interlingual communication becomes transparent, we predict that the number of situations where high-value transactions occur – i.e. those requiring human translators and interpreters – will go up, not down. If provider rates increase and companies use MT to address a larger percentage of their linguistic needs, human translators could benefit as they are paid well to render the most critical content supporting the customer experience and other high-value interactions […]

Although it has not happened yet, we speculate that MT driven by these phenomena could remove the, “cloak of invisibility” from translators, giving them greater recognition and status.”

Up until now, the overall impact of what is referred to as language technology in the working environment for human translators, meaning mostly Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) and machine translation, has been largely negative.

Initially, translators were promised a pie in the sky in the form of CATs that would dramatically increase the number of words that they would be able to translate per day, leading to a much higher compensation for their work. Instead, they had to spend a considerable amount of money – I understand Trados software costs 800 Euros – and an even more considerable amount of uncompensated time while learning and using this software, only to be told in the end that they must provide discounts to “the translation industry” for what are called “fuzzy matches” and “full matches”, a disgraceful invention of “the translation industry” that amounts to nothing more and nothing less than extortion and wage theft.

The unfortunate fact that the rates paid for translation to translators by most translation agencies are generally lower than 10 or 15 years ago is clearly due not only to globalization and corporatization of “the translation industry”, but also to the impact of “fuzzy matches” and “full matches”.

I doubt very much that MT and Big Data will “remove the ‘cloak of invisibility’ from translators, giving them greater recognition and status.” The opposite has been happening so far, as “the translation industry” is definitely interested in keeping translators invisible rather than making them more visible. That is why “the translation industry” also invented the term “Language Service Provider” and replaced the term “translation agency” with the acronym “LSP” to make it appear as if it were translation agencies who are in reality acting as brokers, not the translators, who provide the languages services.

I don’t know how Don DePalma came up with this idea, but it makes no sense to me.

But I do agree with his other conclusion, ” […] We predict that the number of situations where high-value transactions occur – i.e. those requiring human translators and interpreters – will go up, not down.”

I am also hoping that the following conclusion may be correct, “If provider rates increase and companies use MT to address a larger percentage of their linguistic needs, human translators could benefit as they are paid well to render the most critical content supporting the customer experience and other high-value interactions”.

If I try to project this expectation on my field, namely patent translation, I can see how technological changes, mostly the availability of machine translation for most types of patent applications, have gradually changed the type of materials that I am translating now as opposed to what I was translating some 15 years ago.

Since machine translations of patent applications were not available 15 years ago, there was more work available to me in that area than today, and I believe that some, possibly a substantial amount of this work, were translations of patents that were not really required.

It was impossible to know anything about the content of these patent applications (if they were for instance referenced as cited literature in a search report), they had to be translated for example for litigation purposes, whereas it is now possible to take a look at an MT file and the figures in a patent application to eliminate patent applications that are not directly applicable to the issue at hand, even if the original document is in a language that is completely incomprehensible to most people, like Japanese.

I believe that this is why a higher percentage of utility models (“lesser inventions”) need to be translated now, because machine translations are not available for utility models, either in Japanese or in German. Moreover, since older Japanese utility models are often poorly legible, it is basically impossible to convert a PDF format, (the only format in which they are available) to a digital file that would not make any sense whatsoever once it has been run through a machine translation program.

Another change that I see in my field is that while the number of translations of existing patent applications that are needed for prior art research has decreased to some extent, again probably due to the availability of machine translations that are “good enough” to establish the basic points of a patent application, the number of patent translations for filing, for example of German, Japanese and French patent applications to be filed in English, is increasing because more and more patents are being filed all the time.

So how would I answer my own question: is marriage between Big Data and little translators a marriage made in heaven, or hell?

Well, I think that it depends on whether we, the little translators, allow Big Data to abuse us in this marriage. If we simply submit ourselves to Big Data’s demands and to the capricious whims of “the translation industry” and go along with whatever is demanded from us by a nasty spouse, it will be a marriage made in hell, as for the most part, we will be performing and thought of as mere post-processors of the MT gunk who can also do actual translations as required.

But it could be also a marriage kind of made in heaven for translators, if we, the little translators, forget the notion that we are powerless against the brute we married and concentrate on the most critical content, i.e. the highest value-added content dug out from infinite oceans of Big Data by ” big-data science”, assuming there is such a thing.

In conclusion, my advice to most translators is: you don’t need to be married to Big Data or to “the translation industry”. Stay or become single and try to work mostly for direct clients. Why stay in an abusive relationship with the “translation industry” or Big Data when with a little bit of work and thinking, you can eventually become happily divorced.


Responses

  1. I agree with you, Steve, that translation of patents/applications for prior art research has probably decreased because of the availability of MT “translations” that are good enough to help the reader decide whether they are relevant or not. However, I think there is another factor: “patent family” information (information that links corresponding – e.g. same priority application) patents/applications has become widely available on the Internet at no cost. This has meant that people who do not have access to services such as Derwent (now Thomsons, or whatever its current incarnation is) and Chemical Abstracts can now look at patentscope/esp@cenet/depatisnet and see whether there is an English-language application corresponding to the Japanese-language one they can’t read (and those corresponding applications – if truly corresponding and not mis-linked – are probably real-person translations of the original document).

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    • I agree with Derek. That said, you of course have to be incredibly careful with “equivalent” applications, because they can be extensively amended/rewritten to meet local requirements. I sometimes cross-refer to e.g. a US patent in my work, and they can be almost unrecognisable from the e.g. European text I’m working on. They would, however, usually be a reasonable guide if someone was simply carrying out a prior art search, I think.

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      • True, although most of the time only the claims are changed.

        Even so, if somebody asks me to translate only the differences between two patent applications, I tell them that usually only the claims are changed, which can be usually easily ascertained by simply counting them, but that in order to make what has and what has not been changed, I will have to translate the whole thing.

        If they really have to know what the difference is, a new translation is unavoidable. If it is not that important, it should be enough to translate just the claims.

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      • Oops, I hadn’t seen Derek’s further posts when I wrote that.

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  2. Thanks, I did not think of that, although this may be a more important factor than instant availability of machine translations.

    However, there are often differences between the English and non-English versions, sometime very small and sometime significant, which is probably why some law firms need the the translation anyway (and sometime they even tell me which English version is the relevant to the patent application to be translated).

    So I’m kind of confused about that. Sometime I even think to myself, well, patent lawyers get paid by the hour, so as long as the client will pay for that, the more translations there are, the better as far as they are concerned.

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    • Let’s suppose that a Japanese company files a single Japanese priority application (i.e. a first Japanese national application) on month 0, then there is a PCT application in Japanese, say on month 12, which claims priority to that application.
      The Japanese national application and the PCT application both publish in Japanese around month 18 (but the PCT application will have an English abstract available thanks to WIPO). The PCT application need not be identical to the priority application – for example it might contain new data, broader claims, etc.
      Now suppose that PCT application is nationalized in an English-speaking country (US, Canada, Australia, EPO – though there it could be nationalized in German or French translation, but English is the most likely). Each of those translations, which will publish sometime around month 33-36, should be a direct translation of the Japanese original of the PCT (they might even be identical if the Japanese company or its attorneys has one translation done and sends it to each of the countries for filing), but they might have minor formatting differences and the claims may have been modified into locally-acceptable form at filing, though the directly translated claims should be available.
      So you can easily see that if you want the exact content of the priority application, you need to translate it; but that if you want the exact content of the PCT application, or a sense of the priority application, you can rely on the PCT national phase translations.
      Now imagine that there is more than one Japanese priority application, which is quite possible. Then your PCT application is kind of a compilation of the “best of” or “highlights of” the various priority applications; and so your PCT national phase translation may not reflect any of the priority applications well.
      That’s PCT – and that’s most of what major companies are doing now.
      But if you go back 20 or 30 years, many companies were still filing directly without going through PCT.
      So, Japanese priority application but now US/CA/AU/EP direct national filing claiming priority to that Japanese application. That English-language direct national filing will be like the PCT above – similar but not necessarily identical to the priority application; and in fact it will almost certainly be adapted to local practice, so you might see slightly different versions (especially as to the claims) in different countries. So again it doesn’t tell you exactly what the priority application said; and again it gets worse if there are multiple priorities.
      And the fact that applications can be amended at the time of filing (albeit in only limited ways) and the publication will be of the amended application can make things yet more awkward.
      Here are two reasons why, say, a US attorney might want to know what’s in a Japanese-language application: (1) is it good prior art against my client’s application? (who said what when – the English PCT national phase translation or local application will give you an idea as to whether you should worry or not, but may not give you a definitive answer), (2) is the priority claim valid? (does the priority application support what’s being claimed in the local application – and there you absolutely must have a direct translation of the priority application to compare with the local application).
      As you can see, whether and what to translate depends critically on what information you are looking for, and for what purpose.

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      • Thanks, Derek, for the clarification. Working mainly with European patents, as I do, I’m not so au fait with the workings of the PCT system.

        “Now imagine that there is more than one Japanese priority application, which is quite possible. Then your PCT application is kind of a compilation of the “best of” or “highlights of” the various priority applications; and so your PCT national phase translation may not reflect any of the priority applications well.”

        This is quite pertinent to my situation at the moment, since I’m actually translating what is a divisional of a divisional of a divisional application(!). It strikes me that this might be a better example of useful application of a translation memory system to the ones I gave earlier. If you’d translated the “various priority applications” (say 3?) separately and the PCT was putting together edited highlights, so to speak, the TM would pull together the various sentences from your 3 previous translations (and/or highlight differences), which would save you time. In my current case, it’s largely a case of new prior art and new (long) claims, which I think seem to be stitched together in a patchwork from previous claims, a clause here and a clause there. So instead of having to (haul out and) look through paper documents which I last worked on 3 years ago, I highlight chunks of source text, find how I translated them back then (from whichever application they were part of), and copy and paste into the new claim translation. Charging? I obviously can’t charge a full translation rate when I’ve been asked to adapt the previous originals, so I’m charging a per-word rate on the new translation, and the rest – regardless of whether they are exact or fuzzy matches – is being done as a time charge.

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  3. Well, I think that it depends on whether we, little translators, allow Big Data to abuse us in this marriage. …………..

    I know predictions can be fraught, Steve, particularly predictions about the future🙂. However, in view of the overwhelming evidence already available about developments in the ‘profession’ over the years, it would be a miracle if the future favours translators rather than the intermediaries who are driving the changes.

    It has been my experience that most translators (particularly those who cannot safely be regarded as professionals yet) are happy to articulate the problems that face them, will argue vociferously about the solutions, but appear unwilling to accept and use any advice or to join forces to solve anything, because it involves risk, education, training, hard work, persistence, discipline, sacrifices and then some. This is not just a problem among translators, of course. Change is tough and most of us will wait until the very last moment before taking a risk to save themselves.

    I think we can safely assume that as far as the majority of translators are concerned, things will get worse before they stabilise at an absolute minimum level (modern serfdom/subsistence in the jig economy).

    Forget about them getting any better other than for those among us who have the knowledge, skills and discipline to determine their own fate rather than trying to stem the avalanche of propaganda and commercial pressure coming from the ‘industry’.

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  4. I agree.

    Things are getting worse for us because we are not doing anything about our profession, except bitching non-stop on social media about how bad things are.

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    • I found out the hard way that trying to help is like herding cats🙂

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  5. In this passage:
    “In turn, the perceived value of human translation would increase. Why? Because when you bring in a live human, it means the transaction is very, very important”
    the use of “live” in “live human” really surprised me. Are the thinking to bring in DEAD humans? Or maybe their brains only? So that they would not need to pay the ‘live’ brain owners?…

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    • Those dead ones are probably the zombie translators that Steve has blogged about before. You’ll find larger numbers of them in the job portal graveyards.

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      • I think that by “live translators” the writer probably means for the most part the human fodder that is used for blind auction portals such as Proz and the like.

        They clearly used to be human, but after having been exposed to super-low rates, MT post-processing and other types of degrading, dehumanizing and soul-deadening treatment for a while by “the translation industry”, they are now more dead than alive, which is why I had the temerity to refer to them as zombies in my silly posts (but I also said that we should be nice to zombies, who used to be our brothers and sisters not long ago).

        But to the writer of the article that I am gently critiquing in the present post, the zombies probably still appear as “live translators”.

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      • Steve, maybe we should have a short story contest on the subject of The Zombie Translator Apocalypse. Whaddaya think?

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  6. Great post! Regarding “Initially, translators were promised a pie in the sky in the form of CATs that would dramatically increase the number of words that they would be able to translate per day,” for some translators this is still the case. My CAT tools are my investment, like all the other investments I make to improve my life as a professional and as a human being.

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    • Thanks for your comment, Au, and thanks for posting my silly posts on IAPTI FB page.

      Yes, I understand that CATs are useful for some translations, and I understand that what kind of tools you decide to use is nobody’s business.

      But the question is, what is the percentage of translators accepted as legitimate the idea that they have to give translation agencies discounts for “fuzzy matches and full matches” calculated by a CAT, usually Trados.

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      • 99.9%😦 probably. I keep being “discarded” when I reject “the attached Excel file with the blah blah blah.” I know most colleagues have handed over this benefit to the agencies (with all that implies). It would be great to have founded statistics about this.

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  7. Thanks, Marco, I completely missed that.

    The choice of the words “live translator” reminds me of the language that is used in medical studies using live subjects such as mice, dogs and monkeys to test a new medication, as opposed to tests in which bacterial cultures are just grown a petri dish. The animals are in the end “sacrificed” (that is the scientific term used in a number of languages) and an autopsy is performed to examine their liver, heart, brain and other body parts.

    Studies done on live animals are of course much more expensive than studies in which you just grow bacteria in a petri dish, but the perceived value of such studies is increased when you bring in live animals.

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  8. A more appropriate paraphrase of “removing the cloak of invisibility” might be “stripping them naked for the slave auction”. It has been an interesting experience listening to the nonsense justifications of those who lie publicly about the value of human translation and speak of the fierce urgency of now to translate all those plumbing manuals from Polish to Bengali so that we are swept away when that content tsunami fills and bursts the pipes of our linguistic sewers. It’s even cute to listen to the (former?) head of GALA, Robert “Sketchy” Etches, virtue signal his ex-hippiness as part of the Coca-Cola commercial for worldwide data sharing. Last year I was at a conference in Porto and I heard this fellow repeatly call the audience (mostly translation company owners, tool vendors, process managers and some few translators) fools for “ignoring” the bulk of bulk data, though then it was mostly about the foolish failure to extract profits. I would not call a guy who focuses on being the best he can be in effectively mediating information from Spanish to Turkish, for example, a fool and a failure, but that’s just me I guess. Nor do I despise the companies and individuals who carefully and thoroughly establish their domain expertise and work assiduously to provide the best and most ethical services they are capable of. These Big Data hucksters are often fools, but many are like the cynical manipulators whom I observed closely as part of the Great Y2K Programming Scam. This is just another case of a wannabe technology priesthood trying to distract the populace so they can pick their pockets and bugger them while intoning faux blessings. You can read Mr. Etches’ comments here: http://www.translationtribulations.com/2016/07/fluent-failure-in-translation.html?showComment=1468960047240#c4407100429704420447

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  9. Ha, ha, ha, you are our eyes and ears, Kevin.

    I wonder, how do they counter in these presentation in which they estimate the value of the “machine translation market” to be 865 zillions, the argument that free or almost free machine translation is and has been available for a very long time, and that post-processed machine translation is still crap?

    Does anybody dare to ask such inconvenient questions?

    And if so, do they have any counter-arguments other than one can “train linguistic tools” so the the output, combined with post-processing by “live translators” is not crap anymore?

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    • Speaking of free machine translation, I was chatting recently with a friend who runs a big linguistic sausage shop in Germany, and he told me proudly how his company was producing their first web site in English to expand beyond their current limitation of a DACH clientele. For years he has told me of the superior quality of their English translators, of which he is firmly convinced, because his German clients hardly ever complain. My occasional insights into his TMs tell me a lot about those clients🙂

      To ensure the same consistent quality for which his agency is known, he is proudly using the latest Google Translate technology, which he considers really excellent if he writes his text for optimal linguistic gargling. Then of course he sends it off to some jungle for post-editing. Of course he swears they never do this for client texts, but I remember him once swearing that he would never stoop to use Indians for marketing outside that part of the world, but a conversation a few years ago that this reservation had also been swept aside in the quality-doesn’t-matter tide so celebrated by our own Trump of Translation.

      I mention this fellow only because I trust him more than our Aging Aquarian and am convinced by the evidence that he has a greater commitment to real quality. We have too many “thought leaders” in this sector whose idea of upgrading service quality seems to be a discount on their sisters’ affections.

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      • “A big linguistic sausage shop in Germany. Hm, I wonder what that could be. (I think that I probably worked for them at one point, until I became too expensive for them, although my rates did not change).

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  10. “It would be great to have founded statistics about this.”

    Exactly. ATA for some reason does not include this question in its questionnaires for ATA members.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. […] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuVfmfaNupQ Every few months, the ATA publishes an article representing the views of "the translation industry", or what the ATA euphemistically calls “stakeholders”, i.e.  […]

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  12. “More stuff is out there, so new technologies are being developed to do more stuff with the stuff that is out there. When you put it like that, it sounds more like something that has been happening for centuries … because that is all it really is.”

    But for centuries almost nothing changed. A Japanese/English translator who began in 1950 and stopped in 1990 saw 1) the use of faxes and 2) the use of word processing from the late 1970s.

    A Japanese/English translator who began in 1990 saw 1) better word processors 2) electronic dictionaries from 1990-1992, 2) email from 1995, 3) search engines from 1995-97, 4) much better Google searches from the early 2000s, 5) Google Translate from the late 2000s and 6) better quality MT from the mid 2010s.

    That is far more change than for the translator who worked from 1950 to 1990. The one who began in 1990 wouldn’t even recognize the translation world during his last ten years in the 2020s.

    This isn’t slowing down.

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  13. “That is far more change than for the translator who worked from 1950 to 1990. The one who began in 1990 wouldn’t even recognize the translation world during his last ten years in the 2020s.”

    Of course, there has been much more change after 1990 than in the previous 50 years. And there is a simple reason for that, called “Internet”.

    But I started working in the translation world in 1980, and I still recognize it after all the changes that this world has gone through in 2016.

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  14. Medical technology has also changed dramatically in the last 100 years or so, particularly during the last few decades. Yet, you don’t see doctors taking on casual, part-time work to make ends meet.

    Oh, I forgot, it’s illegal to offer medical services if you’re not a qualified physician and then sub-contract the work out to anyone who believes they have some worth-while medical skills. Same for lawyers (and most other professions).

    Of course, these professions got together a long time ago and formed guilds and developed, and enforced, strict codes of professional ethics and conduct to protect their own interests (and by extension the interests of the patients/clients) e.g. not sub-contracting for non-professionals.

    And no, you could cannot join their guilds/institutes if you are not a qualified physician and a person. Of course, I’ve heard there is a country where, for some convoluted reason, it has been decided that corporations are also persons; so in that case an exception is in order.
    Can’t quite remember what country🙂, but I can imagine that such decisions could lead to considerable confusion about how to protect people from exploitation by said corporations. QED🙂

    It seems to me that with foundations so flawed, building a sound structure may be difficult if not impossible. The nature of many translator associations are a fine example of conflicting, vested interests where one side has gained the dominance needed to exploit the other.

    The solution starts with establishing a proper professional institute with very (make that extremely) strict conditions of entry and ongoing membership (e.g. persons with professional qualifications and professional standing only), together with tough penalties for those breaking the rules.
    It must be owned and managed by the members and must not seek or accept sponsorship from outside the profession (some people seem to struggle with this concept and why it is not only undesirable, but seriously counter-productive – if confused, please study ‘politics’ in most countries other than in Scandinavia).

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  15. “The solution starts with establishing a proper professional institute with very (make that extremely) strict conditions of entry and ongoing membership (e.g. persons with professional qualifications and professional standing only), together with tough penalties for those breaking the rules.
    It must be owned and managed by the members and must not seek or accept sponsorship from outside the profession”

    I don’t know what you mean by an institute, Louis, but I think that every association of translators should basically work like this. Once an organization that refers to itself as an association of translators starts accepting brokers and other non-translators as members, the translators in such an organization are doomed because the brokers, representatives of the government (FBI, NSA) and others will have much more power in it than mere translators, they will naturally use translators in their own interests which are often directly opposite to those of mere translators. This is basically what happened to ATA, which is no longer serving the interest of translators, but mostly those of “the stakeholders”.

    For example, I looked at the program of the 57th ATA Conference which will be held in early November in San Francisco, a city I love and used to know well because I lived there for 10 years. But what would be the point of going to a conference that pretends that the problems that I try to talk about on my blog do not exist, or to a “job fair” at this conference if most “jobs” would be available from translation agencies, who will be exhibiting at the conference in force, hungry as they are for cheap “newbies”?

    The closest organization to your concept of “institute” that I know of is IAPTI (International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters) https://www.iapti.org/, which is based in Argentina but has members worldwide. Unlike with ATA, you have to be a translator to become a member, you need to have a diploma, and have a recommendation from another member. I think that is the way to go.

    But IAPTI, which is only a few years old, has currently a lot of problems too, mostly because there are major disagreements there about issues like continued education points (a completely ridiculous concept as at it practiced by ATA and its British counterpart too), corporate sponsorship of conferences, etc.

    But whether IAPTI will work out the problems or not, I am so glad that there is finally an alternative to ATA. I can finally go to a conference of an organization that is run by translators for translators, where I can meet other translators from around the world.

    And there are of course other conferences for translators, the last one I went to in April of this year in Prague http://bp16conf.com/ was also very good, I met a lot of interesting people there, and an additional bonus was that I did not have to give a lot of my money to ATA.

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    • Oxford Dictionary (Institute): An organization having a particular purpose, especially one that is involved with science, education, or a specific profession: e.g. the Institute of Architects.
      To me, it means a separate but closely controlled vehicle to achieve a defined outcome on an ongoing basis.

      An association on the other hand implies a set of linkages (associations) of people and/or entities with a common or related interest.
      In the case of an association, its ‘purpose’ is often poorly articulated, complex, vague, contradictory (because it tries to satisfy the needs of too many divergent interests), or it is simply forgotten or misunderstood (as you have beautifully explained on many occasions).

      The purpose of a professional institute for translators should be simple and to the point: to protect and advance the interests of its members and (by extension) their clients. Nothing more and nothing less.

      ‘Members’ being PROFESSIONAL translators only. ‘Clients’ being end clients but could include agents such as lawyers and professional colleagues and private practice (like yourself), who represent the interests of their clients. It does not include ‘translation agencies’ and LSPs who only represent their own interests (buying and selling translations for profit).

      The strategies, tactics and policies of how this is achieved will need to be more detailed, but none of them should contradict, detract from, or confuse the purpose of the institute. Having corporate members, for example, clearly conflicts with ‘protecting and advancing the interests of (translator) members, and will ultimately damage the interests of end clients.

      It is totally beyond me why some/most translator associations/institutes fail to understand and reject this, unless their leadership is either ignorant or corrupt. I think/hope it is mostly the former, though even a little power has been known to corrupt people’s outlook.

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  16. 1. “Having corporate members, for example, clearly conflicts with ‘protecting and advancing the interests of (translator) members, and will ultimately damage the interests of end clients.”

    Absolutely. This is indisputable. Associations of other professions (writers, bankers, actors, dog walkers) do not allow publishing houses, banks, Hollywood studios, dog walker agencies, etc. to become corporate members for this very reason. To my knowledge, only translators yawned, rolled over, and said “sure, there is no conflict, we don’t mind”.

    2. “It is totally beyond me why some/most translator associations/institutes fail to understand and reject this, unless their leadership is either ignorant or corrupt. I think/hope it is mostly the former, though even a little power has been known to corrupt people’s outlook.”

    I think these associations are basically run by the people who run them as a for-profit business and there is more profit to be made if you can charge membership fees, sponsorship fees and the like corporate members. So who cares about the interests of translators? Those are not terribly important in such an association.

    3. Institute v. Association

    I don’t know what is the major difference between the Institute of Translation and Interpreting in UK http://www.iti.org.uk/ and ATA https://www.atanet.org/ or if there is one. A rose by another name is still a rose. Maybe somebody can elucidate.

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  17. The reality is that anyone is allowed to call himself or herself a translator as it should be. Doctors and lawyers (with the help of politicians and judges who are of course mostly lawyers or all lawyers, respectively) rigged the game a long time ago, and we aren’t that far from computer technology turning those areas upside-down too. Look at what Watson can do with medicine.

    I’m sure you still recognize translation, but the internet also produced along with far more powerful computers, quite good MT, which enables the low end translators to work for 3 to 5 yen a word. The “internet” is constantly evolving and has only been around for 20 years for the translator. MT will also be far more accurate in 5 years.

    Translation wages are converging toward what an editor makes. If you live in the U.S., stagnate translating wages (word per yen) since 2000 means that income has dropped 35% in 15 years due to inflation.

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    • So your proposed solution is……………………………………….?

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  18. MT will keep getting better, but only by about 0.01 ~ 0.06 % per 3.5 years and it will never hit 100%. So what what one needs to do to is to find a translation field in which close to 100% and quality accuracy will be required for at least the next 30 years.

    And inflation is tough, that’s for sure. The best way to beat inflation for people who are not rich is to invest wisely in real estate, which has been true for centuries.

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  19. I admit my background is in physics and mathematics. I have no idea where you came up with 00.1 and 00.6 per 3.5 years. Absolutely laughable, but I’m sure translators will soon come up with a Golden Community to protect them….

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  20. Well, if the numbers are laughable, it worked, because it’s obviously a joke. You can’t measure the quality or correctness of translation in percentages. If you have a paragraph of 250 words, in which the conclusion is reached that something is worth five hundred fifty five zillion dollars (for example “the market for machine translation”) and the MT software somehow misses the word “not”, which can easily happen for example with Japanese or German, the measurable content would be 99.99 percent correct. But if the original sentence said that “the market for machine translation” is not worth fifty five zillion dollars, the whole thing would be obviously a mistranslation.

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  21. I just wanted to say that I don’t think Big Data poses any threat to translators because the language needs of Big Data are very different from the translation needs that human translators fulfil. I was reading about text analytics the other day (http://analytics-magazine.org/text-analytics-lost-in-translation-ii/) and found it very fascinating because this kind of data mining does not process data in the structured way that human beings do and need to do for their purposes. It seems to be more of a highly fragmented way of associating very disparate pieces of data, independent of the human language or dialect it is expressed in, into a large network of associations. This is useful for mass-scale market research. Therefore, machine processes, in combination with human input, are useful and efficient for this purpose, but it is something very different from what human translators do and which they will always be needed for.

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  22. Logically, I would have to agree with you. Big Data is Big Data and human translation is human translation, a very different kind of animal, unlike machine translation, which is a part of Big Data. The problem with machine translation (which should be really called machine pseudo-translation) may not necessarily contain a whole of real data as you need a human to tell you which part of it is real data and which part is misinformation.

    But I think that the article that I am discussing in this post is an indication that “the translation industry” has plans for us that involve mostly translators being subordinated to machines and producing for next to nothing big chunks of post-processed Big Data, extremely profitable for “translation industry”.

    That’s where human translators fit into Big Data the way “the translation industry” sees it.

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    • “the translation industry” has plans for us….”
      “If you don’t have a plan, you become part of somebody else’s plan” (Terence McKenna) – QED

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Perhaps that is true if that is what they are saying at ATA events and the like. I cannot say personally because I am not part of any translator associations and do not read their publications or attend events. Not on principle or anything, it’s mostly a time issue for me, so I just focus on taking care of the people I work with. I find this is the way to really make money, whether it’s translation or whatever else.

    Of course the translation industry is fragmented and not all agencies are the same, maybe there are some agencies that think they can get a slice of some sort of pie in this way, as you describe, but from my little corner of the translation world, based purely on what I observe from my interactions with the people I work with, I just don’t see this kind of threat to translators from translation agencies + machine translation if the translators are truly competent in “human translation”. I don’t know what it is like working for agencies when you do patents, but I am in law/finance/marketing and really, it is my experience that human translators are very valuable to agencies in these fields.

    Big Data is part of the marketing industry, and there are translation agencies now that are trying to develop marketing platforms and tools to offer as support to market research clients, of which translation is only one of other related services. But even so, I have noticed in my agency work that the marketing clients have among the biggest budgets and they are very happy to throw their money at translations for full price, no “fuzzy” rates, etc., even for very easy work, like if 5,000 people out of 10,000 who have completed a market survey are practically giving the same answers to the same questions, which you do not even have to retype if you are using Trados, etc. But they really value accuracy. These marketing clients may need Big Data analysis too, and use machine translation, but even if they source the foreign language skills through agencies, I still see that as something very separate and not a cannibalisation of what translators otherwise do for agencies. Of course you don’t have to participate in that as a translator if it’s not interesting or lucrative enough, but if you did have a strong interest in it, you could just become a proper data analyst but with foreign language skills. I just do not think it is as sinister as any big plan to subordinate anybody.

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  24. “So your proposed solution is……………………………………….?”

    To accept the fact that human translation is soon ending. Not in the year 2586 (“centuries from now”) as The Mad Patent Translator insists — then 2300 and recently “maybe 20 years but I’ll be retired by then – look at the rapidly shifting goal posts.

    This will end very, very soon. One possibility to extend a little while in Japanese/English translation is to form a firm as lawyers do. If you have three patent translators who are excellent, then there is at least a name brand that could be marketed as a premium J/E translation firm. But most J/E translators won’t do this because they are getting a lot of work as it is.

    But why is my friend getting all the J/E translation work he can handle at 17 to 20 yen per word when other veterans are no longer getting that stream of work? In his case, he has only worked for two firms in 15 years.

    At any rate, technology is about to make waste of all translation. The good news is that it will also revamp medicine to make it cheaper and far more effective.

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  25. “To accept the fact that human translation is soon ending. Not in the year 2586 (“centuries from now”) as The Mad Patent Translator insists — then 2300 and recently “maybe 20 years but I’ll be retired by then – look at the rapidly shifting goal posts.”

    My mistake, I actually meant in the year 2865, based on my Bid Data calculations.

    Did I really say 20 years from now? That does sound like me …. at least not when I’m sober.

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