Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Avoiding the Black Hole

Pic of space craft heading towards a black hole

Black hole terminology like event horizon and singularity is now commonly applied to the translator. Is doom on the horizon? Or are there options to redirect and reinvent the profession?

Resistance is futile
A few words from Imperial College London's 100th Anniversary celebration of Einstein's Theory of Relativity have stuck in my mind. When heading for a black hole, you will meet your doom faster if you resist.

Personally, I prefer to spot the black hole on the horizon and redirect my spaceship well in advance.

Higher status
There is no argument that the translation profession is going through a major disruption. I agree that the role of today's translator will no longer exist. However, my past experiences as a translation project manager and marketing manager tell me that many issues will continue. Clients will still need to turn to language experts for creativity and cultural guidance. Tomorrow's "translator" should be freed from much drudgery to perform at a higher level with a higher status.

At the AsLing Translating and the Computer Conference in November 2015,  we saw that familiar video of robots falling over all the time. Just one month later, the Boston Dynamics Christmas video showed some sure-footed robot "reindeer".

Resistance and a policy of non-cooperation isn't going to prevent further progress. Not all progress in our field is unwelcome. I was impressed by the live demonstration of Skype Translator by Microsoft's Will Lewis. It wasn't perfect. It was FUN in capital letters. It wasn't high level interpretation. It was for those inane conversations that we all have with our friends. We say very little in real terms. Yet we end up with a warm fuzzy feeling and a big smile on our faces.

Applications for the deaf
More importantly Microsoft work has educational applications of great significance for the deaf. We saw the difference that the system made to a deaf boy's education.

The most moving session at ITI's 2015 Conference for me involved the British Sign Language (BSL) Panel. It was an eye-opener about how poorly served the deaf community are. Even the BSL that we see on TV is poor because it lacks emotion. One of the deaf panellists described finally understanding what theatre is about after seeing excellent platform interpreting for the first time. Her description brought tears to the eyes.

Any technology that improves the lives and participation of the deaf community is to be encouraged in my view.

Shape the future
My takeaway from the AsLing Conference is that translators should shape rather than resist the future. Our professional lives are being taken over by technology. That technology is not always robust and reliable. The Internet of Things will surround us with embedded sensors. The IT world will have to launch products that are more robust with greater interoperability than at present.

More user-friendly
Rather than resisting, I would recommend that translators demand more user-friendly technologies. Keep IT developers busy doing what would make our working day easier and more productive. Please be kinder to our eyes, hands, necks, backs. Seek developments that assist rather stifle our creativity.

Addictive CAT tools
At Elia Together, I jokingly asked Kilgray to make CAT tools as addictive as online games for teenagers. It seems that my request isn't such a joke. You don't know what might be possible unless you ask. Anyone fancy virtual reality translating?

Our world is changing so fast that it is hard to keep up. This disruption is affecting everyone not just the translation community. I am a great believer in investing in my own CPD. To avoid the black hole on the event horizon, I have recently enrolled for the IDM Professional Diploma in Digital Marketing at the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing. I have always preferred to do something rather theorise about a future threat.

What's your plan to avoid the black hole?

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