This is a post that will send shivers down the spines of translators everywhere.
First the bad news (if you’re a translator – great news if you’re a publisher!).
India’s YourStory reports that a 300-page book written in English by Indian author Srinivas Mahankali, totaling 100,000 words, was translated into Mandarin by automated software in just 30 seconds.
The publisher would normally expect a translation of this size to take six months, with all the associated costs.
Instead the initial translation took thirty seconds and a further one week was spent by a professional editor cleaning up the text.
The Youdao AI Translator was demonstrated at the August Beijing International Book Fair.
The good news for translators is this was a non-fiction work, which would be more amenable to automated translation than a novel where the language will likely be more emotive and nuanced than a straight factual text.
But of course AI conquering that challenge is just a matter of time.
However, translators should not despair. This new software, as it becomes readily available and affordable, may prove an ally rather than an enemy.
Imagine bidding for a translation contract and being able to offer a return in weeks rather than months, by the simple expedient of using the software for the first draft translation and then spending quality time smoothing the rough edges.
For now this level of achievement will no doubt be limited to translations between a handful of the “power languages” of the world, but in time this technology will open up exciting new opportunities for global exchange of information and literature.
The Global New Renaissance could be about to step up a gear.