Tag: Interpreter

AI Interpreter Fail at China Summit Sparks Debate about Future of Profession

AI Interpreter Fail at China Summit Sparks Debate about Future of Profession

Tencent’s AI powered translation engine, which was supposed to perform simultaneous transcribing and interpreting at China’s Boao Forum for Asia last week, faltered badly and became the brunt of jokes on social media. It even made headlines on the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s main English newspaper – which, incidentally, is owned by Tencent’s key rival Alibaba.

The Boao Forum, held in Hainan Province on April 8-11, 2018, is an annual nonprofit event that was started in 2001. Supported by the region’s governments, its purpose is to further progress and economic integration in Asia by bringing together leaders in politics, business and academia for high-end dialogs and networking.

Tencent is one of the tech giants of China, often dubbed the “B.A.T.” (for Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent; sometimes BATX if one includes Xiaomi). Its most well known products include the instant messenger WeChat as well as microblogging site Sina Weibo. Both are everyday apps used by just about all Chinese citizens as well as other ethnic Chinese around the world.

WeChat in China is pretty much an all-round, full service lifestyle mobile app in its local Chinese version. You could do just about anything in it these days – from buying train and movie tickets to making mutual fund investments to ordering groceries or an hourly maid from the neighbourhood.

In 2017, Tencent rolled out an AI powered translation engine called “Fanyijun”, which literally translates to “Mr. Translate”, since the Chinese character for “jun” is a polite, literary term for a male person.

What went Wrong?

Fanyijun is already in use powering the in-app translator in WeChat as well as available online as a free online service. However, it was supposed to have made a high-profile debut at the Boao Forum together with the Tencents “Zhiling” or literally translated, “Smart Listening” speech recognition engine, showcasing the company’s ability to do real-time transcription and interpreting. In retrospect, it seems the publicity effort has backfired on Tencent.

To be sure, human interpreters were still on hand to do the bulk of the interpreting work during the forum. However, Tencent used its AI engine to power the live translation and broadcast of some of the side conferences to screens next to the stage and for followers of the event within WeChat.

This resulted in many users making screenshots of the embarrassing errors made when the engine frequently went haywire and generated certain words needlessly and repeatedly, as well as getting confused when some speakers spoke in an unstructured manner or used certain terminology wrongly.

Chinese media cited a Tencent’s spokesperson who admitted that their system “did make errors” and “answered a few questions wrongly”. But he also said in their defense that the Boao Forum was a high-level, multi-faceted, multi-speaker, multi-lingual, discussion based event. That and the fact that the environment was sometimes filled with echo and noise, added to the challenges their system faced.

“They still need humans…”

The gloating hit a crescendo when someone circulated this screenshot from a WeChat group composed of freelance interpreters. It was an urgent request for English simultaneous interpreters to do a live webcast later that day for the Boao Forum.

One group member replied, “They still need humans…” Another said, “Don’t they have an interpreter device?” A third sarcastically added, “Where’s the AI?”

Tencent later clarified that this request was meant for engaging interpreters for their professional news team doing live reporting in Beijing, and not for the simultaneous interpreting team located onsite at the Boao Forum.

Tencent reportedly beat other heavyweight contenders such as Sogou and iFlytek to secure this prestigious demo opportunity at the Boao Forum after a 3-month long process. Sogou is the 2nd largest search engine in China, which also provides a free online translator, built in part through leveraging its investment in China startup UTH International, which provides translation data and NMT engines. iFlytek is a listed natural language processing (NLP) company worth about USD 13 billion in market capitalization. Its speech recognition software is reportedly used daily by half a billion Chinese users and it also sells a popular pocket translation device targeted at Chinese tourists going abroad.

But given what went down at the Boao Forum for “Mr. Translator”, Tencent’s competitors are probably seeing their ‘loss’ as a gain now. The social media gloating aside, this incident has sparked off an active online debate on the ‘what and when’ of AI replacing human jobs.

One netizen said on Sina Weibo, “A lot of people who casually say that AI can replace this or that job, are those who do not really understand or know what those jobs entail; translation included.”

However, Sogou news quoted a veteran interpreter who often accompanied government leaders on overseas visits. She said, “As an interpreter for 20 years, I believe AI will replace human translators sooner or later, at least in most day to day translation and the majority of conference interpreting. The former probably in 3-5 years, the latter in 10 years.”

She added that her opinions were informed by the fact that she frequently did translation work for IT companies. As such she was well aware of the speed at which AI and processor chips were advancing at, and hence did not encourage young people to view translation and interpreting as a lifelong career, which she considers to be a sunset industry.

Reference: https://bit.ly/2qGLhxu

What happened at the TAUS Asia Conference 2018?

What happened at the TAUS Asia Conference 2018?

On 22-23 March, 2018, part of the TAUS team was in Beijing for the TAUS Asia Conference. It was the sixth time that TAUS came to China, but we quickly realized that it should actually be an annual event on our calendar. This was the first TAUS conference ever hosted by a university, namely the Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU).

 BLCU was established in 1962 and is located in the Haidian District in Beijing. They have bachelor and master programs in 8 languages, but also teach computer science and technology and digital media as well as as a translation and interpretation major. In 2011, the university set up the first localization department in China. A tour through the classrooms impressed us all: high tech equipment identical to that found in the European Parliament is used by the students to practice their human interpretation skills.

Being at this prestigious university in the “Hall of Future Global Translation Talents”, was a perfect fit for TAUS and our plan to have, for the very first timelive automatic interpretation technology (using Microsoft Translator) running throughout the program, with the help of Mark Seligman from Spoken Translation. We are finding ourselves now at a crossroads with the rapid revolution of Neural MT and Artificial Intelligence and realize what a huge impact technology will have on the future of the translator profession. In addition to the live automatic interpretation, four students of BLCU provided live interpretation from the professional interpretation booths and via devices handed out to the attendees at the university. They confessed to being a bit nervous when they realized they were ‘competing’ with the live automatic interpretation from Microsoft.

At the end of the conference we invited the four interpreters and the automatic interpretation leader Mark Seligman on stage to evaluate the different interpretation methods and how they competed or interacted with each other. Before the conference, one of the students, Zhu Qiankun, noted the news from Microsoft that their translation quality is at human parity when compared to professional human translations and also find that it significantly exceeds the quality of crowd-sourced non-professional translations. He found that this declaration is somewhat unreasonable and irrational and wrote an essay about it still before he knew he was going to be functioning as a human interpreter at the TAUS Asia Conference. After teaming up with the machine to interpret the presentations at the conference he wrote another essay with his findings and although his overall view on machines taking over the human jobs did not change he also found that there were some advantages of human and machine working together, namely seeing the live translation transcription projected as a large image on the screen helped them interpret faster and more accurately. He also noted that numbers, names and dates are translated better by the machine than by the human interpreter. The live automatic interpretation phenomenon will be repeated at the upcoming TAUS Executive Forum in Tokyo (on 16 and 17 May).

The conference kicked off with a keynote address from Francis Tsang, President of China at LinkedIn. Francis provided deep insights into the Chinese market, with lots of facts and figures about the workforce and trends. It was a perfect start to two-days of brainstorming and knowledge sharing at this prestigious venue. This was followed by a CEO conversation, starring Marcus Casal from Lionbridge, Henry He from TransN and Adolfo Hernandez from SDL. TransN is the largest translation service provider in China and Henry He provided some great insights into the Chinese market. We quickly figured out that some of the recent trends in the western part of the world, such as blockchain technology, are also very much on the minds of people in China. Francis’s and Henry’s speeches confirmed many of the things that TAUS had predicted in the Nunc Est Tempus eBook that came out last December (see chapter: China’s Turn).

Over the next 48 hours we saw innovative presentations from many Chinese companies as well as western companies. For example: Alibaba presented their work with AI and cross border e-commerce, Niutrans showed their latest developments in MT technology, TalkingChina showcased their advances in boutique translation, and Johnson and Johnson gave a crash course on the challenges of pharmaceutical translation with a focus on China. In the Game Changers Innovation Contest we saw nine innovative technologies, ideas or perspectives. The most original idea came from Tianqi Zhang at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, who showed how machine translation can advance the way football is reported all over the world. It’s no surprise that her innovative and unique research was voted the winner of the Game Changers Innovation Contest Beijing 2018.

With over 160 attendees, the TAUS Asia Conference Beijing 2018 was our biggest conference to date. As always, the participants comprised a good balance between buyers and providers. And since we were at the university, we also had some great representatives of the academic world.

The last session of the conference was focused on talents – bringing together the academic and the business world. Alex Han (professor at BLCU and TAUS representative) gave a presentation about what he thought would be ‘the future translator’. Skills and requirements of translators are changing, and Alex is taking the lead in adapting the study programs to meeting these changing needs. Frans de Laet, a guest professor at BLCU, presented his ideas about the humanization of machines in relation to translator jobs. You’ll see a thorough report of this session as well as the others in the upcoming Keynotes eBook coming out in April.

I think it’s safe to say that the TAUS Asia Conference 2018 was a great success. Lots of new perspectives and ideas were shared and brainstormed among the speakers and attendees, and new connections were made and social networks enriched. We are looking forward to coming back to China again soon!

Reference: https://bit.ly/2qdWZzq