Dr Jonathan Downie is a consultant church and conference interpreter and interpreting researcher. His second book “Interpreters vs Machines: Can interpreters survive in an AI-dominated world? (Routledge, 2019) provided an honest but inspiring account of the possible futures of interpreting. He is passionate about building a future where human interpreting is valued and respected. He co-hosts The Church Interpreting Podcast with Lauryn Albizu and runs the Inside Interpreting YouTube channel.
How Can Interpreters Respond to the Rise of the Machines?
It seems that everywhere interpreters look, there is another appeal to learn a new AI tool or even to hand over the keys of our profession to AI completely. But are those the only options?
Beyond the claims that “we will not be replaced by AI but by people who know how to use AI,” there are clients who just want their meetings to work well and their budgets to be respected. There are people who really don’t care whether their doctor’s appointment is interpreted by a machine, a specialist, or a friend, as long as they get their medicine. How should we respond to their needs and wants?
Based on both research and recent initial experience, in this talk I will argue that we need to pivot away from making technology the focus of our discussions of the future of interpreting. Instead, prioritising skill development, specialisation, and deep knowledge of how our work fits into our clients’ concerns and strategies provides a much firmer foundation. All this might mean being ready to rethink the service we offer and how we offer them as well as creating a revolution in how we spend our CPD time.