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Can interpreters beat the bots?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: August 26, 2019

This is just a short post to share some exciting news. After around 18 months of writing (with some breaks), so many trips to the National Library of Scotland that I have a favourite seat in the Reading Room, and a few trips to try out some ideas in public, preorders for my new book: Interpreters vs Machines: Can Interpreters Survive in an AI-dominated World? are now open. (Click the title to go to the preorder page.)

This book deals with the biggest question in interpreting right now: do human interpreters stand a chance of professional survival, faced with the gathered might of the world’s biggest tech companies? It also deals with the second biggest question: which strategy offers our best hope?

After reading the research, taking an honest look at our profession and really thinking through what is actually going on right now, I have found some uncomfortable answers.

The answers are uncomfortable for everyone.

The answers are uncomfortable for interpreters as they force us to face up to some of the most difficult issues in our profession and practice. Failure to take seriously the challenges of machine interpreting leads inexorably to being replaced.

The answers are uncomfortable for makers of machine interpreting devices and apps as they force them to face up to the weaknesses in their understanding of interpreting. Failure to take seriously the need to actually understand what interpreters do will consign their best work to the world of geeky gadgets that never live up to their promise.

The answers are uncomfortable for the general public, even if they never think of buying a machine translation device, as they force us to face up to what it really means to live in a society where information is currency and where the technology we use to communicate might just control what we can and can’t say and how we say it.

This isn’t just a book about interpreting; it’s a book where I deliberately attempted to get to the truth of what it really means when people in the tech sector say they will replace people with machines. If you are an interpreter, a programmer with an interest in AI, deep learning or machine interpreting, or even just someone interested in the power and effects of technology, this book is for you.

As soon as the final release date is confirmed, I will bring you another update.

Don’t just read the book

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: November 30, 2016

Business owners have never had it so good. We have almost any kind of information at our fingertips. Need marketing advice? You can get it in seconds. Need to get more work-life balance? You can read up on it anytime.
We have all this information but I am not sure that we are actually benefiting from it. In translation and Interpreting, there are some amazing books on personal and business growth but some of us are still making the same mistakes. Why?
Just reading a book will never be enough. To actually learn from it, you need to do the book. A single page applied does us more good than ten chapters just read. There is no point in finishing a book if it hasn’t done you any good.
So the next time you find yourself reading a thought-provoking book, take notes. How can you apply it to your business or service delivery today? Pick one action, one goal and spend six weeks applying it. Once you have applied it, evaluate your results. Then and only then, will it be time to turn the next page.
It’s hard work but it’s much more useful than having a full bookshelf but an empty bank account.