Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Language Interpreting at Conferences?

Article in partnership with Day Interpreting. International conferences rely on professional and qualified language translators with solid experience and skills that have been vetted and selected for the job. How likely is it that Artificial Intelligence may replace human language interpreters?

It’s All In The Questions You Ask

Just like when you type a question into OpenAI’s app ChatGPT to generate a text-based answer, it’s all down to the quality of the question you ask, including the question whether AI (artificial intelligence) will ultimately replace humans who are professionally qualified to offer language interpretation.

You see, the real question is not about replacing humans but in automating some processes. I asked the question about replacing humans to no other than ChatGPT itself and its coders have diplomatically generated an answer that is aimed at not alienating humans.

In summary, the reply I received from ChatGPT boils down to “exploring” various technologies to “assist” the language interpretation process. The reply also acknowledged that language is so complex and nuanced that offering an accurate translation when interpreting is a major challenge.

How Artificial Intelligence Can Assist Professional Language Interpreters

Now that we have established that human professional language interpreters are here to stay (we hope), ChatGPT offered some suggestions of how AI can support interpreters at conferences, for example by recognising the language being spoken and automatically transcribing a speech from a delegate or a panel discussion.

The transcript can also be translated in another language using Machine Translation and the resulting text can be referred to by language interpreters. However, knowing how pressurised and fast-paced the job of a language interpreter is, I personally think there isn’t enough time to read through a computer-generated script as a back up. The interpreter has to provide instant translations or within a few seconds; meanwhile the automatically-generated text will take a few seconds to load up on the screen and sometimes there will be a considerable lag. We should also consider that the transcript may contain errors including missing words or even replacing words that may sound similar.

For example, when you touch type a transcript from an audio file without using machine-generated text, you often need to rewind and replay some parts of a speech because the speaker may have lowered their voice or sped up their talking pace.

Another use of AI in the context of conference interpreting is to convert translated text into speech using a computer-generated voice. This application can be delivered in real time. We are all familiar with auto-captions in videos that we see on various social media platforms so this is not new to us.

Professional translators have been using machine learning tools for many years as a way to simplify their work by accessing commonly used terms and expressions as well as other reference material. However, some translators may find suggested terms and expressions from automated tools to not fit with the general context.

Going back to language interpreters, automated tools could potentially provide some useful resources however I do wonder how suggestions offered from a machine could disrupt the workflow of an interpreter in the middle of a real time translation.

Finally, during a conference a speaker may use gestures when they are struggling to find the word they are looking for and the delegates in attendance may understand those gestures, whereas a machine would only leave a blank space as there is no speaking.

What conference language interpreters really need is an environment without distraction with high quality sound and equipment that allow them to do their job properly. Also we mustn’t forget that the job of language interpreters is extremely stressful and while machines have the computational power to process multiple languages at high speed, nothing can replace the actual act of interpreting which is to distill several years’ worth of experience and exposure to different cultures.

If you need professional language interpreting look no further than Day Interpreting, a 24/7, 365 days per year open service provider with 300 language pairs available upon request.