Posted by: patenttranslator | January 12, 2017

If You Don’t Have a Job Repairing a Robot, You Don’t Have a Job

The United States and a number of other countries have lost many millions of manufacturing jobs in the last two decades, in particular in the last decade.

The main reason why Donald Trump was elected last year may very well be the fact that he was the only candidate talking about this problem and promising to do something about it, still left standing after the Democratic Party unceremoniously got rid of Bernie Sanders by sabotaging his every move.

The truth is, the Democratic establishment prefers Donald Trump to Bernie Sanders. Bernie’s presence in the White House would remind Democrats day after day what they once used to be and no longer are: a party that fought for the middle class and working people.

I heard the sentence that I picked for the title of my post today on a call-in show about disappearing manufacturing jobs in the United Sates. It was said in a bitter sounding voice by a former automotive worker as an expression of the hopelessness he was feeling about his job prospects.

I’ve had many bitter comments on my blog from translators who are also discouraged by the current situation of translators and the conditions created for them by the “translation industry” that they are looking for a way out, preferably a different occupation.

Although they love, or used to love translating, they don’t think it is possible to make a decent living being a translator at this point. That is what the “translation industry” has done to our profession only in the last decade or so.

I think this is also one reason why there are so many instant translation gurus everywhere who claim to have a magical solution for all translators, though mostly for those who sign up for their paid seminars. To me, the funny thing, or one of the funny things about these instant gurus, is that most of them are so young they could be my grandchildren. And I am not really that old yet … I have adult children, but no grandchildren yet.

I think that many of these “experienced translators” are cashing in by giving seminars and webinars on how to make more money translating by using extra cool technology, social media, or by finding direct clients … because they can’t make enough money just by translating.

You can tell really good writers by how they write really good or at least popular books, which is to say books that many readers want to buy. Writers who are not as good teach creative writing at a community college because they too have bills to pay.

And really good translators are so busy translating, even in the brave new world created for them by the “translation industry”, that they don’t need to give webinars to make ends meet because their customers are keeping them busy translating at very good rates.

The equivalent of an autoworker who is fixing robots, robots doing what the worker used to be doing because he can’t find any other work, is a translator who fixes machine translations because he can’t find any real translation work.

The difference here, or at least one of the differences, is that while it is possible to design a robot that will replace a worker in a car plant who performs manual labor, it is not possible to design software that will replace the thinking that goes on inside the brain of a translator.

Human languages are too complicated. They are as complicated as human thought processes. If the “translation industry” were honest with its clients, it would have to admit this simple fact and make it clear that machine translation is only a tool. Although it might look like real translation, it is not really translation.

But they can’t say that because if they did, who would buy it?

Even beautiful sounding sentences can be a trap, if these sentences are translated by machine translation software rather than a human being. The problem with machine translations that are based on the statistical approach pioneered by Google is that beautiful sentences that sound just like sentences created by human translators often say the exact opposite of what was said in the original language.

I have seen many examples of texts in descriptions of patents that were translated by machine translation and that looked very impressive to me, a patent translator who has been translating patents for a living since May 1987 – nearly 30 years now. The sentences looked perfect, but they said the opposite of what was said in the original. After all, the software is only based on statistical probability.

The “translation industry” says that this problem will be solved by what the industry calls post-editing of machine translations by humans. Sometimes, the industry even calls this kind of unappetizing editing of raw machine output by humans “copy editing” to make it sound more appealing to translators and customers.

But several fatal flaws are hidden in this concept of humans whose job it is to repair a robotic system for translation of human thoughts.

When machine-translated sentences are obvious mistranslations because they sound hilarious or because they clearly make no sense, it is easy to see where the likely problem is in the machine-translated output. But when they sound like real sentences created by a real human being (because that is what they originally were, except for the fact that the meaning of the original text may now be the complete opposite of what the machine translation says), it is very difficult and extremely time-consuming to find out where the problem might be, even more time-consuming than translating everything from scratch.

It is highly unlikely that humans hired at slave wages will bother trying to find mistakes in machine-translation output for one simple reason: the “translation industry” wants to pay them so little that even if the “post-processors” want to do a good job, they won’t have the time to do it.

I have been contacted by translation agencies several times already to work as a “copy editor of machine translations”. Out of curiosity, I called twice to inquire how much would I be paid for this work.

Both times I was offered the princely sum of 1 cent a word, as I wrote in a post titled So Now I Know How Much They Want to Pay Us a little over a year ago.

Some former car plant workers did become robot repairmen who were fixing robots that had replaced them … until they were fired even from this job once the robots were fixed.

But I can’t imagine that real translators would be willing and able to repair the product of machine translation robots for a living, no matter how desperate these translators might be, at the pitiful rates that the “translation industry” is willing to pay for such a horrible job.


  1. I think it is unfair to translators to compare them to the men who fixed robots because most translations are creative efforts, like original writing. I totally agree about the way translators are paid and treated, because if you pay someone badly, you have little respect for them. Ditto, interpreters. I also agree that good translators are too busy translating to give seminars but this also applies to translators who stand for office in translation associations. I have found that most of the committee members are not full-time translators.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, it is unfair:

    “The difference here, or at least one of the differences, is that while it is possible to design a robot that will replace a worker in a car plant who performs manual labor, it is not possible to design software that will replace the thinking that goes on inside the brain of a translator.”


  3. There are MT gurus who are sympathetic to our plight, but want us to be more expert than the MT experts and clean up their game by refusing to play on their terms. The problem is that for every sheep that looks at the meat grinder and walks the other way, there are a hundred who will go along with the crowd. Meanwhile, people like you and me pass by on the other side of the street, and the bottom feeders burrow down deeper into the mire.


  4. Ha, ha, ha, so well put.

    I want more people to pass by on the other side of the street instead of following fellow sheep into the meat grinder.


  5. I have just been informed by a translation agency to whom I applied for work via ProZ that they have given the job to someone else but will I fill in all of their rubbish (including the confidentiality agreement which, of course, is not worth the paper it is written on) in the vain hope that they might offer me a job in the future. I have seen enough complaints on this subject from translators to know that I am totally wasting my time filling in all their rubbish. Are agencies ever going to stop treating translators with such disrespect?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s because 99% of translation intermediaries (“agencies” and platforms alike) are not translators.

      They do not have the faintest idea of what translation is all about.

      Worse, they keep disinforming end-customers as to:

      – how much volume can be translated per day or per hour;

      – how much customers should pay for a translation;

      – etc etc.

      The people who develop the so-called “computer-aided translation software/tools” (CAT tools and machine translation (MT)) are not translators either.

      In my mailings to direct customers, I keep on denouncing this.

      I hope that this information will end up instilling in their minds and in that of the world community of end-custumers.

      We, the real translators – contrary to monolingual commercial people – have to counter-manipulate and tell the truth!

      I also speak my mind to intermediaries.

      And I let them know that I also say this to end-customers, so intermediaries had better tell the same things to end-customers as translators do, otherwise intermediaries will not sound very professional.

      Only way to go… 😉


      • Yes, Isabelle you are so right! I was recently contacted by a translation agency asking me to translate into English a list of 180 names in Hebrew (which I have not yet seen). I explained that it is impossible to know when converting from a language that does not use a Latin alphabet how the name is spelled in the Latin alphabet. Oh, that’s something they had not thought of! And these people think they can run a translation agency! And you are also right about their pontification that a translator can translate about 3,000 words a day. For both French and Hebrew it takes me about an hour to translate 1000 words depending on the layout, and I don’t even use CAT tools!


    • And if you want to have a good laugh before going to sleep, may I recommend that you read this agency’s FAQ web page for the attention of customers, to show you how agencies disinform customers.

      Let’s start with the section “How long does a translation take?” for example:

      You will learn that, in a non-translating agency’s eyes:

      “Volume: One translator can translate about ***3000 words a day***”… Wow…


      “Why do urgent translations cost more?

      The ***surcharge varies between 25% and 100%*** depending on how quickly you need your translation.
      One of the reasons why we need to charge extra is because our project manager ***and translator*** will need to work overtime ***and this is paid per hour***.”

      Has any urgency ever paid a translator a surcharge for emergencies?

      The mentality is: we translators should be only too happy to get some work…

      And since when have freelance translators been paid per hour for translating?

      This is of course how it should be. But this website aimed at end-customers (who are also translators’ direct customers…) is a pack of lies…


      “Do you charge for the translation of words like ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘the’ and ‘it’?

      ***Our rates are calculated in hours of time it takes to translate*** a certain amount of text. ***This is converted to a per-word rate***”

      This is how it should be, but this is not what is happening, unfortunately…

      Please let us know if you find other rare gems like these, so that we can all laugh together. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The answer to your question, I’m afraid, is a resounding NO, at least for agencies using the corporate business model.

    I once sent my resume to an agency because a friend told me that they urgently need Japanese translators.

    They did not send me any work but they keep sending me e-mail like the one below, which I ignore because I don’t want to work for them anymore.

    “Hi Steve,

    My name is PC and I recently started as a Project Coordinator for XYZ.

    We are currently updating our database and we noticed that we don’t have signed paperwork from you, but we have your CV on file. I presume one of my colleagues must have been in touch with you before.

    Could you please let me know if you’re still interested in working with us, so I can email you our paperwork to fill in and sign? This way we will be able to contact you for soon new projects 🙂

    Thanks in advance.

    Kind Regards,


    Project Coordinator

    Liked by 2 people

  7. These “we are currently updating our database” messages are usually sent by an intern or some other unpaid skivvy whom the agency needs to find work for because they are too dumb to be trusted with the routine work of the agency. So they are told to go back through the files, find anyone who has not filled out all their stupid bumf and write to them to ask them to waste their time. Keeps the intern busy and out of everyone’s hair.


  8. Engineer here, and job prospects are looking up for us! Ha ha, there is definitely truth behind the sentiment of your title. But I can empathize with my friends and neighbors that work skilled labor jobs, who have been suffering the last few years.
    Being willing to retrain and/or move elsewhere to find work is a solution for some, but it may be too great a challenge for others to do this. The older folks working in coal mines in West Virginia, their lifetime job and experiences are simply becoming obsolete as coal becomes economically (and environmentally) non-viable to mine. Sad.


  9. I once sent my resume to an agency because a friend told me that they urgently need Japanese translators.


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