With less than four months to go, 2020 is well on its way out and we can bet this is causing a global sigh of relief. Without a doubt, this year will go down in history as the year of the Coronavirus pandemic which quite literally shut down the whole world.
In a twist of irony, 2020 is definitively the year that also opened up the world, bringing the entire world together on a scale that has never before be seen in history in the fight against a common enemy. This necessitated sharing of information and real time communication among different countries, peoples and languages. Frontline and essential services workers, notably doctors, nurses, supermarket and delivery staff were held up as the poster heroes of the pandemic and rightly so, nevertheless, it is imperative to note the huge input of the Translation services industry which ultimately kept real-time communication lines open across the world.
Below, we flag up three of the top trends in the Translation industry which we see advancing well beyond 2020.
AI and Machine Learning
It comes as no surprise that technology is at the fore-front of the translation trends for 2020. Machines that can ‘understand’ and ‘speak’ human language are not a new concept as they first started to learn how to speak English as far back as 1956, when Artificial Intelligence as a field was birthed at the Dartmouth Conference. Organized by John McCarthy, he had stated that the conference was “to proceed on the basis of the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it.”
Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a subset of Artificial Intelligence that gets computer systems to ‘understand’ and respond intelligently to human languages. Although the researchers at Dartmouth had predicted in less than 20 years a fully intelligent machine would be built, progress has been slow and 64 years later, machines that ‘understand’ and ‘speak’ human language are only just leaving their ‘infant babble’ behind and coming of age.
In the summer of 2020, one such leap towards coming of age was the launch of GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer – version 3), the most successful natural language processing system that has been built so far. It is a tool that helps developers create apps that understand human language. Developed by Artificial Intelligence research lab, OpenAI, GPT-3 has been hailed as “shockingly good – and completely mindless” and described as “what the system generates is indistinguishable from human-written text.” Infact, a college student used the tool to write a blog post which trended on Hacker News; a social news website geared towards the global Developer community. When a few people commented it was probably AI generated, the community downvoted those comments. The first wave of GPT-3 enabled systems are already being built by a number of other companies including a legal technology firm gearing up to ‘outsource’ litigation tasks to machines and another company that is set to put an end to the average professional spending hours writing emails every day, thanks to GTP-3.
Another U.S company, AppTek won the third annual A.I Breakthrough Award for ‘Best Speech – to – Text Solution.’ The technology which is now available free on the App Store allows users to speak directly into their phone to transcribe spoken words into readable text in about 17 languages.
Alexa, play, “Baby Shark.”
Anyone who has been on the internet for any length of time would probably remember this viral video from 2018 of a 2-year old trying to get Alexa (the AI behind the Amazon Echo) to play a song but Alexa wouldn’t cooperate as the machine didn’t understand the nuances of ‘baby-speak’. In a lot of ways, this incident drove home the reality that voice search and the technology behind it is no longer a thing of the future but of the here and now.
Though voice technology is still an emerging trend, the concept has been around for more than a century. Radio Rex, produced in 1910, was a voice activated toy dog that would come out of its house when its name was called. Another close prediction of voice technology was in the 1969 dystopian sci-fi novel, Ubik by Philips K. Dick.. In the novel, all the basic components of a house interact through voice and cash and we see the protagonist being forced to pay a toll fee of 5 cent by his AI-enabled door which loudly and stubbornly demands the entrance fee to his house. In 2009, Time Magazine chose the novel as one of the greatest 100 novels since 1923.
It wasn’t until 2011, when Apple launched Siri with the Iphone 4s that voice assistants entered into the mainstream of mass adoption and commercialization. Google followed closely with Google Now in 2012, Mocrosoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa launched in 2014, Google Assistant in 2016 and since then, several others including Samsung, IBM, Huawei, Yandex and others have jumped into the pool.
According to Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data, “as of the first quarter of 2019, 42 percent of the worldwide online population had conducted a voice search via any device within the past month…” As voice search becomes more entrenched in the mainstream, multilingual voice search and translation options will be important in the global market and businesses that are already optimizing for voice search now will be well ahead of the curve.
Video accounts for over 60% of downstream internet traffic and that number is projected to be over 82% by 2022 and little wonder, as netizens, Millennials and Gen Z users flock to video platforms like YouTube and TikTok. Streaming services like Netflix is an example of a business that has made global strides in expansion and continues to profit from video translation and localization as a business strategy.
Video translation and localization is one trend that is only just beginning to gain momentum, the market is vast and sub-titling, dubbing and voice-over and localization will continue to play an important role in the expansion of businesses across international boundaries.
An explosion in the quest for video content within the e-learning and online courses market necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic is another huge unexploited opportunity for the translation industry.
Change Equals Opportunity
Changing times like the one we are currently in this year, 2020, can be tough but that’s only one side of the coin. Change is ever constant and on the side of the coin, always comes with new opportunities. Machine translation and other advancing technologies will not replace human beings but instead, will augment humans, giving humans the opportunity to do what machines cannot – being human.