04 November 2017

Translation and disruption #5

If the translation industry is indeed on the brink of disruptive innovation some of the things that may happen could include:
  • change will be more client driven, less supplier driven
  • translation memory systems, the current leaders in translation technology, are unlikely to retain their leadership
  • clients will accept lower quality provided the service is cheaper, more accessible and less difficult to understand
  • self-service offerings like Google Translate will continue to enjoy explosive growth
  • some translation clients using cheaper or free-of-charge services will encounter serious and sometimes costly failures
  • new business for suppliers specialising in high-end translation, adaptation, localisation, etc. will come largely from clients who have encountered and recognised failures produced by cheaper solutions
  • as a percentage of global consumption, the proportion of translations provided by high-end suppliers will continue to fall
  • the intellectual content of a growing proportion of translation industry jobs, including freelance work, will decline at an accelerating pace
  • the amount of training required to master the next generation of translation environment tools (TenTs) will plummet
  • universities will face enormous challenges justifying long-cycle training courses for translators facing, for the most part, low and falling pay scales and less intellectually satisfying work prospects
  • a proportion of the small army of high-end suppliers enjoying both success and good incomes may once again come into the profession after a decade or more of experience in other types of work yielding in-depth knowledge of subject matter and languages.

Signs that others are also noticing the trend

User expectations: The good news for MT is that due to the crapification of language the expectations bar has been coming down, and people are much more willing to accept raw MT, warts and all. Despite the quality problems, more & more people are using web-based MT services like Google Translate, Bing Translator, etc., to read and write content in other languages.  As with texting above, they’re more concerned with content than with form: they’re OK with errors as long as they can understand the content or at least get the gist of it. This seems to be true even for countries that have traditionally had a high bar for language quality, like Japan and France.


Translation and disruption #4

In the The Translator and the Machine, Prof. Kenny reviews the outlook for translators and the translation industry. Being more recent, her November 2017 presentation (The translation studies guide to disruption) presumably takes her forecasts further at least with regard to translation studies.

Prof. Dorothy Kenny introducing The translation studies guide to disruption

I am tempted to add my own.
But first a couple of words of caution to myself and my readers.
First, disruptive innovations only become apparent once they begin to recede in the rear-view mirror. Almost by definition, the analysis is post hoc, not predictive.
Second, one of the many conclusions I draw from the many years I have spent reading about technology, product development and disruptive industrial technologies is that a high proportion of prediction as to what might happen turn out to be completely wrong.
One reason for this has nothing to do with technologies per se and everything to do with client psychology.

That said, I can't resist the temptation to make some predictions of my own if for no other reason than to record them here today in writing so that I can look back in a few years' time to see how I fared as a (short-term) futurologist.

Translation and disruption #2

Let me provide some background to explain the 'flash' mentioned in Translation and disruption #1.

Between 2000 and 2008 I gave an annual short course on 'Technical communication in English for multinational product development teams' as part of a seminar on Product Design for final year engineering students at the Instituto Superior T├ęcnico in Lisbon, Portugal. The seminar attract more candidates than could be accommodated. My modest contribution was also well received to the point of attracting senior members of faculty staff.

To ensure that my short course met the students' needs I attended the entire two-week seminar on a number of occasions.
This contributed directly to my awareness of issues confronting engineers and technologists, not least disruptive innovation.
I learned a great deal about case studies and their impact on everyone engaged in developing, producing, delivering and using products and services affected by technological innovations.

I have also closely monitored technological innovation in the translation industry since, I guess, with the dictaphone and elctronic typewriter in the 1970s.

Today, a flurry of developments and the fact that a number of colleagues now associate the terms 'translation' and 'disruptive innovation' suggests we may indeed have reached a tipping point.

Translation and disruption #1

Event: Translation Conference 2017
Venue: University of Portsmouth
Date: Saturday 4 November 2017
Facebook: #2017portxl8

Topic: Translation and disruption: global and local perspectives

Conference blurb: Since Clayton Christensen’s seminal book 'Innovator's Dilemma' showed how a small-scale but innovative digital technology can overthrow large established businesses overnight, the idea of digital disruption has been causing both excitement and concern in businesses worldwide, from financial and legal services to entertainment distribution and the taxi industry. The world of translation is not immune to such upheavals and the notion of digital disruption is useful for understanding changes in translation practice.
Keynote speakers included:
Prof. Dorothy Kenny, Dublin City University
Prof. Kayoko Takeda, Rikkyo University, Japan.

In December 2016, the United Kingdom's Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) published The Translator and the Machine by Prof. Dorothy Kenny in the online version of The Linguist.

I missed the conference, but not the slides posted on Facebook (#2017portxl8)*, a couple of which triggered what I can only call a 'flash', by which I mean a sudden increase in the intensity and urgency of some ideas that had long been simmering in the background.

The slides quickly led me to the The Translator and the Machine which saved me the trouble of writing up the ideas just mentioned as I am neither the first, nor the best placed to explain them. Prof. Kenny has done a far better job than I could have.

* The slides I saw were posted by Sarah Griffin-Mason.

Translation and disruption #3

The significant of the concept of disruptive innovation in the history of technology is easily underestimated.
Here are a handful of quote to encourage readers to explore the topic further.

Disruptive technologies 

... have the potential to truly reshape the world in which we live and work. (source)

... may force companies to alter the way that they approach their business, or risk losing market share or becoming irrelevant. (source)

Wikipedia article on Disruptive innovation
Key quotes:
The term was defined and first analyzed by the American scholar Clayton M. Christensen and his collaborators beginning in 1995, and has been called the most influential business idea of the early 21st century.
Disruptive innovations tend to be produced by outsiders and entrepreneurs, rather than existing market-leading companies.
In his sequel with Michael E. Raynor, The Innovator's Solution, Christensen replaced the term disruptive technology with disruptive innovation because he recognized that few technologies are intrinsically disruptive or sustaining in character; rather, it is the business model that the technology enables that creates the disruptive impact. However, Christensen's evolution from a technological focus to a business-modelling focus is central to understanding the evolution of business at the market or industry level.

Full circle

After completing a BSc in physics and maths in Australia and extended travels in Africa I found a job in Paris that left me with considerab...