Translation and Language Industry Observations

One of the most common questions that people in the translation industry are asked is: will Google Translate replace professional translators? The funny thing about this question is that it has been being asked for over 10 years at least. Does that mean that the question is stupid or that the answer is no? Well, the true answer to that question is: not yet. Another possible answer is: never. It depends on who you ask. Futurists believe that machine translation technology will improve to a point where professional translators will become obsolete. Skeptics/realists feel that MT technology will never be good or reliable enough to master the human language skills and emotions that are required to produce a good translation.

At this year’s 2022 Google I/O conference Google’s CEO introduced a new prototype of Google Glass, which is Google’s Augmented Reality (AR) glasses. First introduced nearly 10 years ago in 2013, Google Glass never became a commercial success. This was due to (a) a high price tag and (b) limited functioning. Skip to 2022 and Google is touting Google Glass as the answer to live voice translation, transcription and as a tech-driven lip reading device for the hearing impaired.

People in the translation industry should be encouraged by the fact that a major portion of Google’s developer’s conference was devoted to new language and translation features. This not only included the new Google Glass prototype, it also included an announcement of the addition of 24 new languages to Google Translate.  At the same time however, some people in the translation industry may be worried that the new technologies may mean less work for them.

Will the need for interpreters become a thing of the past?

If Google-bespectacled people will be able to hold conversations with people that are speaking in another language, why will interpreters still be needed? Just put on your glasses and read a real time translation in your own language. And if interpreters will no longer be needed, then neither will the sound booths and headsets that are used by interpreters in their work. Hospital and court interpreters? Who needs them when the Doctor or Judge can put on a pair of glasses and understand whatever is being said?

What about video subtitles and transcription?

Currently, there is a lot of demand for transcription of videos and translation of subtitles. The demand for this service has increased in the last few years as virtual conferences have become normal due to the pandemic. Will AR-powered glasses make these services obsolete?

As costs drop, will we being seeing more uses for AR glasses?

Young woman with glasses for 3D and iMAX holds a plate with popcorn while watching a movie at the cinema

Anyone who has been to an iMax or a 3D film knows that they give you a pair of 3D glasses at the entrance to the theater. And people usually return them at the end of the show. Presumably the theater has these cheap plastic glasses sanitized, to be used by a new set of viewers. Will AR glasses ever become cheap enough for similar use? That would open up a whole plethora of potential uses.

Summing Up

First of all, it is important to note that Google has not yet announced a new product release. Just that they are releasing a new prototype. And while the concept is exciting and potentially life-changing, it may forever be stuck at the same state where machine translation has been for years-not ready for prime time.

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