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Transcending Nationality with Machine Translation

by Wayne Kueh (113305054)

While not as flashy or prominent as other technologies, the innovation of machine translation will eventually become a vital undercurrent through which global society is conducted. Machine translation is when a software program on a computer or network takes text or speech in one language and automatically translates it into another without any human aid. This process happens in a matter of seconds and can be done faster and cheaper than manual translation, which fulfills the definition of a disruptive innovation.[1] Indeed, one patent translator admits that “machine translation is at this point good enough to give anybody a good idea of the content of sources in a foreign language.”[2]

Using readily available Internet enabled tools like Google Translate will enable businesses to localize their goods and services without having to pay the costs of hiring professional human translators with years of training. This will greatly reduce the barrier to entry for small businesses to go global, especially if their product is wholly electronic like a website or software as a service.

The impact of machine translation is not restricted to only corporations. Having access to this technology in our daily lives as citizens will add much convenience to them. In the past, people without a common language between them would need a human interpreter to communicate with each other, a luxury that remains reserved for meetings between important business and government officials. An affordable real time translation device like Google’s Pixel Buds[3]would bring this capacity to the masses, allowing people of all backgrounds to communicate across language borders for any purpose, including just casual conversation.

Yet there is a negative consequence of potentially losing authenticity in our communication. With the widespread availability of translation methods, people will feel less motivated to actually learn another language. Another downside is that the machine translation may not be perfect, and in many cases some culture specific meaning may be lost in the process. This is only incentive, however, for computational linguists to work that much harder on improving this technology.


2. https://patenttranslator.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/the-impact-of-machine-translation-on-human-translators/

3. https://www.engadget.com/2017/10/04/google-pixel-buds-translation-change-the-world/

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