Translation and Language Industry Observations

by David Grunwald

Probably none of us will have a job. If you want to do a job that’s kinda like a hobby, you can do a job. But otherwise, AI and the robots will provide any goods and services that you want. (Elon Musk)

In my opinion, this time Elon Musk is wrong. And while Elon Musk is the world’s richest man and is certainly much smarter than me, I have more faith in the eternality of the Bible then in the ramblings of Musk.

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Genesis 3:19)

I myself have been in the translation business for nearly 30 years. And I have heard these discussions from Day 1: that machine translation will make the job of translators obsolete. But in reality, the translation business has grown sharply since then and there are many more translators today then there were when I got started in the biz. My estimate is that this trend will continue in the coming years and there will be more translation jobs rather than fewer.

Why AI will not replace human translators any time soon

Some reasons why AI will not replace human translators:

  1. Lack of Trust: Even if AI/MT can produce a perfect translation, people can’t trust it. Because AI often makes mistakes. So anyone that requires a reliable translation will have to turn to professionals. I don’t see this changing any time soon.
  2. Emotions and Emotional Intelligence: Human translators can recognize and convey the emotional tone and intent behind the text. This is crucial in fields like literature, customer service, and counseling where the emotional aspect of communication is significant.
  3. Ethical and Confidential Considerations: Some translation tasks involve sensitive and confidential information. Human translators can ensure privacy and handle such information ethically and securely, something that might be challenging to guarantee with AI.
  4. Interpersonal Communication: In situations that require real-time interpretation, such as meetings, negotiations, and interviews, human interpreters can facilitate smooth and effective communication by understanding and reacting to the dynamics of the conversation.
  5. Intention and Ambiguity Resolution: Humans excel at understanding the intended meaning behind ambiguous phrases and choosing the most appropriate translation based on context. AI might misinterpret these ambiguities, leading to inaccuracies. Humans can also identify errors in the source text while AI may not.
  6. Adaptability to New Language Trends: Human translators can quickly adapt to new language trends, slang, and evolving linguistic norms, ensuring translations stay current and relevant. AI systems may lag in incorporating these changes.
  7. Personalization and Customization: Translators can tailor their work to the specific tone, style, and voice preferred by the client or required by the project, ensuring a more personalized and effective translation.
  8. Consistency in Long-term Projects: For long-term projects or series of translations, human translators can maintain consistency in terminology, style, and tone over time, building a coherent and cohesive body of work.
  9. Professional Accountability: Human translators are accountable for their work and can provide explanations or justifications for their choices. This accountability builds trust and ensures a higher level of professionalism.
  10. Collaborative Efforts: Translation often involves collaboration with other professionals, such as editors, subject matter experts, and cultural consultants. Human translators can effectively communicate and collaborate within these multidisciplinary teams.

Long Term Implications of AI on the Translation Industry

AI will most certainly impact the industry and professional translators, to the same extent or even more than the advent of CAT tools and MT. Here are some of the possible trends we may see in the future:

  • Further adaptation of AI by professional translators and LSPs: many LSPs are already offering AI-based PEMT service. Many translators, if not all, are using MT and AI as a baseline in their work, or at least as an aid in their assignments.
  • Cost Reduction: The trend mentioned in the previous bullet point may lower the cost of translation services, making them more accessible to small businesses and individuals. This could also expand the market for translation services.
  • Increased specialization of the work force:  AI still struggles with context, cultural nuances, idiomatic expressions, and creative language use. Human translators excel in these areas, especially in literary translation, marketing materials, and legal documents. This will lead to heightened demand for human translators in roles requiring a deep understanding of context and subtleties. Translators may spend more time on higher-value tasks, such as ensuring the quality of translations and focusing on projects requiring a human touch.
  • Job Market Evolution: The job market for translators may evolve, with a shift towards roles that leverage human strengths in conjunction with AI capabilities.


The long-term implications of AI on professional translators’ jobs are complex and evolving. While AI poses challenges in terms of job displacement for routine tasks, it also offers opportunities for increased efficiency, new roles, and enhanced collaboration. Human translators’ skills in handling nuance, context, and cultural specificity will remain invaluable, ensuring their continued relevance in the evolving landscape of language services.


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