Localization Insights
Localization Insights

What Is AI Translation and How Does It Work?

Artificial Intelligence involves using machine learning to allow devices or software to carry out tasks without the need for human input. Types of AI vary, but most operate by using processing power to detect patterns in data sets, and comparing different uses of these patterns to find solutions that fit specific tasks.

It’s easy to see why AI applies to translation. Languages are essentially large data sets filled with words and meanings, and they are governed by rules determining how those words are used.

AI translation simply applies machine learning to languages. This goes well beyond standard machine translation which directly translates every word, often leading to serious misunderstandings. Instead, AI tools can understand phrases, tones of voice, complex sentence structures, and even jokes or slang.

The result is usually a much higher standard of translation, and content that’s more effectively tailored to target markets.

AI translation uses a technology called Neural Machine Translation (NMT) which was pioneered by Google from 2016 onwards. NMT software mirrors the approach of humans learning languages for the first time.

These tools analyze patterns in language based on vast quantities of documents in both source and target languages. NMT systems use this data to create codes that map almost any words and phrases onto the target language.

Neural learning systems are designed to become more accurate as they carry out this work, up to the point where they almost reach native fluency. The AI translation website Google Translate is a case in point. Over time, it has developed sophisticated abilities, especially for more common languages and simple texts.

What are the advantages & disadvantages of using AI translation?

Is AI already a translation technology to rely on when carrying out localization campaigns? Potentially, but there are still some key pros and cons that users need to keep in mind.

There’s no doubt that AI translators have some major advantages, including:

  • Speed – AI-based translation tools can deliver instant translations for travelers when they are most needed. For example, they are well-suited to understanding menus written in foreign languages, or for deciphering street signs.
  • Support – AI translators can act as invaluable assistants to real world translators. They can provide instant feedback when writers are transcreating advertising copy, or analyze large amounts of content to provide feedback on batch translations. They can also flag up issues relating to tone of voice that older digital translators might miss.
  • Cost – The best AI language tools are capable of transcreating large volumes of texts at a high accuracy level, without the financial overheads associated with human translators. In some cases, human translators can perform quality control tasks for digital batches, radically reducing the cost of localization.

However, there are potential negatives as well:

  • Cultural misunderstandings – AI translators may be more accurate than ever, but they aren’t humans with a deep knowledge of local cultures. Accurate translations can still be misleading or offensive to local people, and humor is something that computers aren’t well-equipped to analyze.
  • Complexity – Good content is clear to begin with, but some texts have to be complex, such as technical manuals. AI translation tools can struggle with source texts that are obscure or ambiguous. They may not be ideal for precision translation where technical jargon is involved.
  • Blandness – Computers are exceptionally good at repetitive tasks with clear outputs, but they aren’t good at making texts engaging and fun to read. Texts made using AI translation can often be bland and neutral. That’s sometimes a good thing, but branding requires personality, and that needs to be supplied by humans.

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With those pros and cons in mind, what should AI translation actually be used for?

AI is suited to several roles in the localization process, but not as the sole translator. Instead, most transcreation services harness the power of machine learning to supplement the work of humans.

AI can act as a quality control mechanism, automatically checking human texts for errors.

AI can decide when texts can be completed by machines, and which ones should be assigned to humans. Analyzing the number of ambiguous or “fuzzy” phrases provides a good snapshot of how easy a text is to translate.

Human translators can benefit from continuous AI assistance, with translation tools making real-time suggestions. They can also provide metrics regarding completed texts which analyze aspects of translation quality.

Companies can use AI to help with localization project management. They can automate content creation and translation when possible, and monitor workflows to ensure that quality remains high while meeting cost and time milestones.

Think of AI translation as a way to make human translators smarter and projects easier to manage. Both are great news for companies seeking to localize their content.

Not all translation tasks are suited to AI translation tools. As we noted earlier, projects characterized by high levels of complexity and technical language are less suited. Legal and scientific terms can pose unique challenges to machine learning systems, and skilled humans will generally perform more reliably.

AI really comes into its own when projects involve large numbers of relatively simple texts. Project manager can program artificial intelligence systems to carry out basic localization, taking into account tones of voice, fluency, and even some cultural aspects. They can also apply branding guidelines across content batches.

AI is often used by companies in their customer service operations. For instance, companies regularly employ Microsoft’s LUIS tools to localize customer assistance without using large numbers of human operators.

AI has a role in many editing and QA operations. It’s not necessarily a tool to use when translating documents. It’s better suited to checking translations and monitoring the quality of localization campaigns.

AI translation assistance is sure to develop rapidly in line with broader AI technology, and AI is growing incredibly fast. Global investment in AI soared from $12.75 billion in 2015 to $67.8 billion in 2020 and the machine translation market is growing at approximately 19% every year.

However, this doesn’t mean that AI tools will replace humans overnight. While AI is very powerful, translation systems still cannot replicate the cognitive processes of human writers and readers. AI can’t tell jokes or use colloquialisms like human beings. It doesn’t have the sense of style and fluency that real-world writers possess.

Can computers develop these skills?

Absolutely, and they eventually will. But in the meantime, AI is flourishing as a helpmate for translators and a way to make their work more effective.

BLEND leverages AI translation in combination with human localization and deep platform knowledge to deliver the best outcomes to companies with multilingual, cross-border objectives. We deploy the latest AI technologies in serving our clients, and our teams make use of cutting-edge post-editing and translation tools wherever possible. The future of translation is already here, and we are ready for it.

AI translation assistance can reduce the costs and timescales of localization projects while maintaining high-quality levels. And it’s even more effective in conjunction with our real-world translation experts.

Get in touch today to explore the huge potential of artificial intelligence. The translation is smarter than ever, and at BLEND we are ready to help you achieve your localization goals.

Looking for localization services or translation services? Contact us today!

author post

Matt Strach

As BLEND’s Enterprise Marketing Lead, Matt brings 13 years in the audio and video production industries to help businesses execute successful voice and video localization campaigns.


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