Today’s machine translation tools are notoriously inaccurate. Although translation software is capable of translating individual words, it currently does not have the capability to ensure that a string of translated words accurately conveys the meaning of the original source text, much less the ability to create a translation that is appropriate for a particular target audience.
Recently, there has been much discussion in online blogs and trade publications regarding quantum computing. Put quite simply – or at least as simply as possible, given the fact that we’re talking about how computers function – the difference between today’s digital computers and quantum computers is that digital computers are encoded into binary digits or bits, as opposed to quantum computers that utilize quantum bits. While that information may not mean much, this fact will: many experts agree that quantum computers will be able to resolve problems and perform tasks that our current digital computers are incapable of. But will that include producing high quality translations?
The Advantages of Human Translators
A high quality translation is much more than a simple conversion of a string of words from one language to another. It is, in fact, an accurate and precise conveyance of the author’s original text into another language. Within that conveyance is the author’s “voice” or unique style of writing; the vocabulary choice by the author; and the subtle intent behind the author’s words. A professional translator also takes into consideration the target audience involved; popular jargon that might be misunderstood by a reader; and phrases that may be insulting or offensive without a solid understanding of the culture of the target audience. Language is much more than vocabulary lists. In fact, language is constantly evolving and varies drastically from one country to another. Just because two countries may share the same native tongue does not mean that they will use the language in the same way, or that the two countries share the same culture (e.g., history, religious beliefs, taboos, etc.).
Given the complexities of what comprises a high quality translation, there is no doubt that nothing can compare with translations produced by trained, experienced linguists – at least, not yet. Will quantum computing change all that? Only time will tell. It’s hard to imagine a computer capable of taking into consideration the cultural morays of another society and paying heed to those when translating text; or a software program that will understand the subtle nuances of an author’s tone of voice and incorporate that into a finished translation. On the other hand, who could have predicted 75 years ago our current use of laptops and smartphones?
Experts tell us that quantum computing is still in its infancy, and that we’re many years away from using quantum computers on a day-to-day basis. It’s hard to foretell what will happen decades from now, but one thing is certain: as of today, there is no replacement for human translators.