Friday, June 24, 2011

Rise of the Machines: Computers Predicted to be as Smart as Human Translators by 2029

Last month, we discussed how machine translation can be aptly used for certain purposes such as brief business interactions and research, and also covered the problems that this technology faces. We wanted to bring back the issue of machine translation because it has become a controversial topic that has been recently making the media airwaves. Ray Kurzweil, a bestselling author known for his numerous predictions on artificial intelligence (AI), has predicted that machines will reach human intelligence, including human-quality translations by the year 2029. Kurzweil backs his argument by referring to Moore’s Law, which states that technological advances will continue to improve exponentially up to the year 2020 or later. These technological advances will include the use of nanotechnology for commercial purposes and curing diseases. While these predictions seem a bit far-fetched, don’t be so quick to dismiss these statements made by Kurzweil. In 1990, he had predicted a future explosive growth of the internet would be a key force in helping to dissolve authoritarian governments due to the increased flow of information, particularly the Soviet Union.

Yet other translation industry experts disagree that computers will ever become as intelligent as humans. Crista Busse, program manager at Precision Language and Graphics believes that computers will never reach the same level of intelligence as humans. “Emotion has a lot to do with intelligence and computers will never be able to develop emotion,” Crista says. While computers are able to solve complex problems with structured algorithms, computers will never be able to tap into the complexity of human emotion and language, she shared. “Ever-evolving cultural context is also something that computers may not fully understand or catch up to with humans, no matter how much data they have in their system,” Crista added.

But what if these predictions come true and computers are indeed able to conquer human intelligence, what is the fate of the translation industry and the companies who use them? Will companies cease to hire translators and replace them with super computers that can do the job? These questions can be answered with a bit of history. During the industrial revolution, it was believed that machinery would replace the need for manual labor – but manufacturing continues to be an industry that employs millions of people. The key, as many industry experts believe, is for human translators to adapt to these technological changes. Computers have become a natural part of us in such a short period of time and perhaps in 2029 we will depend on each other more than we’re used to. Human translators, with their ability to comprehend human emotions, and the computer, with its ability to handle a large amount of information – may be able to output more powerful translations in the future.

And while some people continue to feel threatened by a computer takeover, it is important to realize that technological booms have benefited humans in a vast variety of ways, including medicine and food production output. Instead, we should use our abilities and the resources available to harness increased computer intelligence and learn from it as opposed to shunning the technology. In 2029, it may be more likely that humans may have outsmarted the computer by making it forever useless without humans by their side.

PLG Welcomes Crista Busse to the Team

In early June, PLG welcomed Crista Busse to our team as a program manager. Crista has always been interested in languages. She received her B.A. in French from Northern Illinois University last year, and has also studied Spanish, Italian and German. Crista's multilingual knowledge allows her to manage large multilingual projects. She hopes to use her linguistic interest to eventually get a Doctorate degree and study psycholinguistics. Crista loves to travel, and has visited 12 different countries on 4 continents. She hopes to someday visit every continent. Prior to joining us at PLG, she lived in Langres, France (Champagne region) where she taught English to high school students and had a chance to enjoy some Champagne. If you have any language related questions, or would just like to discuss French wine and history, feel free to give her a call. We are happy to add Crista to our team.

We also have a new page on our website where you can get to know a little more about everyone here at PLG. You can find the page at

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