[JIF2024] What can (or should) automation contribute to real-life interpreting?

Professor Robin Setton

Robin Setton is a conference interpreter (AIIC 1983-2020, freelance and staff), researcher, trainer, translator and author of dual French and British nationality, working mainly between these languages and from German and Chinese. He holds a PhD in Applied Linguistics (1997), and has been active since 1990 as a trainer and course designer for interpreting schools and institutions in Europe and Asia (Paris, Geneva, Shanghai, Taipei), and more recently, subtitling Chinese independent films. Publications reflect an interest in the interaction between pragmatics, cognition and culture in cross-lingual communication, and include a 1999 monograph on simultaneous interpreting and the co-authored Conference Interpreting: A Complete Course and Trainer’s Guide (2016).

What can (or should) automation contribute to real-life interpreting?

The latest AI systems can now generate fluent and plausible text, and in some cases, viable translations.  However, machine interpreting (MI) would need to meet the expectations of human communicators – essentially, fidelity with (comfortable) intelligibility.

Testing of current state-of-the-art systems on sample utterances presenting known challenges showed the lack of a pragmatic capability (use of context and prosodic clues to disambiguate and convey implicit meanings)/, and of several key competencies necessary to professional interpreting in real-life situations, such as self-monitoring to avoid nonsense production and facilitate cultural bridging.

“Deep learning” may expand the speed and vocabulary of a neural network, but in the absence of any convincing evidence of the promised “evolutionary leap”, the role of such systems (even with improvements in synthetic voice output) should therefore be confined to providing a guide to informative content, as is already the case in tourism and on the Internet.

If time allows, the webinar will address the likely impact of a widespread introduction of MI regardless (probably favouring monolingualism), and/or strategies to educate clients and communicators on how and where automation may contribute (eg as technical support), and how and where communication between humans across cultures should continue to be entrusted to (better-trained) humans, for the foreseeable future. 

JIF2024 tickets (Japanese page)