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Why Human Translators Are Better Than AI

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Artificial intelligence (AI) is surging in popularity across various fields, including translation services. Many people turn to AI translation because of its quick, cost-effective solutions. But can it ever truly measure up to human translators?

A 2020 CSA Research publication found that 63% of linguists thought machine translation produced poor-quality work. Plus, 35% of linguists offer post-editing language services for material translated with AI. In other words, companies may try to save money with machine translation, but many end up paying human translators to fix the errors. 

So why are human translators so much better than AI? Keep reading to find out.

Machine Learning Doesn't Look at Words as Words

Perhaps the most fundamental difference between human and AI translators is how they view and translate words. 

Human translators look at words as what they are: an integral, yet small, part of human communication. They can view each word in relation to a given sentence and context and then find a similar word (or words) in another language to represent the same idea. Linguists recognize that literal translations are rarely effective and don't focus on word-for-word translation. Instead, they try to communicate ideas most appropriately and accurately in another language.

Machine learning looks at translation in a completely different light. It breaks down sentences and uses numerical representations to code and map the text. While this process has become increasingly sophisticated and accurate over the years, the systematic approach is still a far cry from the natural translation process performed by human linguists.

Language Evolves Faster Than Machines

Language is fluid. It constantly adapts to allow users to express themselves in an ever-changing world. New words are regularly becoming standard — from new technologies to recent slang to medical jargon. In September 2022, Merriam-Webster added 370 words to the English dictionary, preceded by 520 new words in January 2021. 

These numbers are only in reference to one language. Now imagine all the continual changes that occur in the 7,100 languages worldwide. As advanced as machine learning has become, it simply cannot keep up with the ebb and flow of one language — let alone multiple. 

Machines Aren't Experts in Industry-specific Terminology

Just as AI struggles to stay relevant with language evolution, it also lacks industry-specific vocabulary knowledge. Machines translate words at the surface level with no consideration for context, audience, or industry. 

Take, for example, the word "acute." In the medical field, an acute condition refers to one that suddenly occurs and typically lasts for a short period. However, in more general situations, acute means sharp or astute. Mathematicians and engineers also use the word to describe a certain type of angle. 

These varied definitions depend on context and industry. Where a highly trained and qualified translator can easily make the distinction between an acute condition and an acute angle, machines cannot. 

This is just a simple example of how unique the vocabulary is between two industries. Numerous industry-specific terminologies also require in-depth knowledge to translate correctly. 

The healthcare industry is a prime example of this. Medical professionals use complex terminology to refer to diseases, treatment plans, medication, and diagnoses. AI does not have the medical expertise to accurately translate those words — but medically qualified linguists do.

Errors in AI Translation Can Have Detrimental Effects

According to a 2019 study, Google Translate had an 82.5% accuracy rate for seven common languages. Generally speaking, these numbers seem promising. But they foster a misguided trust in AI translation. 

A 17.5% failure rate in high-stakes industries like healthcare means that about 17 in every 100 people needing translation may receive incorrect diagnoses, prescriptions, or treatments. Plus, this is only the average failure rate. A 2022 publication reported that Google Translate incorrectly translated 19% of discharge information into Chinese. It also failed with 55% of the medical terms in two African languages. 

Healthcare requires the utmost care and leaves no room for error. While many medical professionals have used AI translation out of necessity, human translators are always the preferable option. With innovations like on-demand video remote interpreting, healthcare professionals can quickly connect with highly qualified linguists and leave behind fears of miscommunication errors.

Invest in Highly Qualified Linguists

To ensure you're receiving the highest quality language services, trust the experts at GLOBO. Schedule a demo of our GLOBO HQ platform to see how you can access qualified linguists for all your language access needs. Our linguists have expert experience in providing high-quality and accurate services for a variety of industries, from healthcare and life sciences to legal and education. Request a demo to learn more about how GLOBO can help your organization. 

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