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Is Google Translate the new evil empire?

Is Google Translate the new evil empire? medical translationThis past Monday, Riina Ne'eman's Twitter feed contained the following post:

Seriously? Financial Times: Google to translate European patent claims
FT got the scoop a day before anybody else but within 24 hours, the translation industry was abuzz with opinions regarding the announcement that "EPO and Google have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to improve access to patent translations in multiple languages".

The background for this agreement to use Google's machine translation (MT) technology to translate patents into 29 European languages is, of course, the fact that the European patent system is broken.

As we have written before:
Currently, the closest thing to an EU-wide patent is provided by the European Patent Office, which isn't part of the EU. Once the office issues the patent it breaks up into a bundle of national patents, forcing companies to defend them individually in each country, which can cost as much as half a million euros in a typical case but the translation costs for long and complex cases are potentially enormous.
The Google-EPO deal seems like a huge win-win: As Renato Beninato puts it, "for Google, this is a bonanza that will provide them with a vast database of quality translations of approximately 1.5 million documents". And for the EPO, it's an opportunity to set the agenda and demonstrate to reluctant member countries that the status quo won't last.

But for translation service providers, their worst fears have just been confirmed.

Six months ago, we conducted a poll on which development posed a greater threat to our industry, machine translation or crowdsourcing.

Translation service providers viewed advances in MT as a larger threat than efforts to use crowds of volunteer translators. And now, a quick six months later, translation service providers have to face up to the fact that MT in general and Google Translate specifically is a real threat to their livelihoods.

And the change in tone in the industry is startling. While respondents to our MT-vs-crowdsourcing poll dismissed MT as "rubbish", yesterday's post on the GTS Blog, for instance, strikes a much more cautious note:
Can Google machine translation replace the human translation process? Not likely. A patent is a carefully worded legal document- the wording of the claims can make or break an IP infringement case. Will Google replace the need for national patent filing in the language of each EU member state? That seems more of a political issue than a technical one.
It will be interesting to see where we are in another six months...

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8 Comments:

  1. Anonymous said...
    I tried Google Translate on a couple of German patents about a year ago, and it was completely unable to do the job. So good luck with that!
    Miriam E. said...
    As a professional translator, I've never used Google Translate in my work. The examples I've seen of it might be OK for someone just looking for the gist of a foreign-language text, but to think that it would work for patents is - well, what were they smoking?! As Anonymous said, it just would not work on patents, where accuracy carries a legal burden. IMO, skilled human translators will always be needed, despite the wet dreams of corporate bean-counters.
    Paul Doran said...
    Sorry Andre, I cannot agree. MT creates opportunities to translate content previously ignored. Like any other industry ours must adapt!

    [Via LinkedIn]
    Marie Aupourrai said...
    Here is a google translation :

    "Currently, the closest thing to an EU-wide patent is provided by the European Patent Office, which isn't part of the EU. Once the office issues the patent it breaks up into a bundle of national patents, forcing companies to defend them individually in each country, which can cost as much as half a million euros in a typical case but the translation costs for long and complex cases are potentially enormous."
    "Actuellement, la chose la plus proche d'un brevet à l'échelle européenne est assurée par l'Office européen des brevets, qui ne fait pas partie de l'UE. Une fois les questions bureau du brevet, il se décompose en un faisceau de brevets nationaux, obligeant les entreprises à les défendre individuellement dans chaque pays, ce qui peut coûter jusqu'à un demi-million d'euros dans un cas typique, mais les coûts de traduction pour les causes longues et complexes sont potentiellement énormes."

    This is great and so funny to read !, I don't feel threatened at all - it does not mean anything in french.

    Forgive my poor english, I am much better at translating.

    [Via LinkedIn]
    Alex Tinsley said...
    MT technologies already have taken some business out of our hands, but the fact is, machine translated text will always contain errors and when the author, or worse yet, the reader of the text does not have enough knowledge of the source (or target) language to detect those errors, the potential problems that can arise are obvious. Even in documents as short and simple as email correspondence, the miscommunications will be numerous. When dealing with larger texts in which subtle details need to be communicated accurately, it will be a long time before we ever see MT taking the place of the human translator. The way I see it, MT, especially free sources like GoogleTranslate can be a valuable, time saving tool to the professional translator. If a rough, but hopefully close translation can be handled with MT and the errors in syntax and nuance repaired by the translator, MT can be a very good thing.

    [Via LinkedIn]
    Lorena said...
    While it is hard to imagine that the translation of patents and other important documents will be left entirely to machines, I do think that machine translators pose a risk to the translation industry in that translators will be increasingly asked to do post-editing of machine translations rather than translating documents from scratch. In addition to being less interesting work, this type of post-editing is likely to be treated as a commodity, resulting in even more downward pressure on translation rates.
    Carole Cyr said...
    For the first time I used Google Translate intensively this past week while translating a rather technical document on the dairy industry. I was surprised by the number of technical terms it accurately turned up, but also noticed that it oddly makes up a number of terms by stringing the equivalents of individual words together. For this type of translation at least, it doesn't match a couple of good reference works and a good term bank.

    [Via LinkedIn]
    DavidGrunwald said...
    Hi Andres, thanks for mentioned my post in yours. I just want to say that anyone who wants to survive this business needs to be flexible and adapt to changes. As the old saying goes: "if you can't beat 'em--join 'em!).

    Best, Dave Grunwald

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