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MT: A Tool for Human Evolution?

As we’ve established before, Machine Translation is a trend on the rise, threatening to swallow whole any translators who don’t seek to adapt to the times as “they’re a-changin’”. But what will happen when machines are able to do everything we do by themselves? Is it even possible? Do we really want them to get that far? What will our fate as a species be in such a scenario?

Are we the ones destined to eventually become obsolete and outdated as a species?

We, Homo sapiens, are supposedly the most advanced life form on the planet. We can stand up straight, think deeper and faster than any other previous human species AND we have motherfrigging iPhones! (and yeah, well, some of us use them for selfies and such, but that’s beside the point).

Us “sapiens” don’t even have to worry about Darwinian natural selection anymore thanks to the institution of civilized society. Our food supply is constantly available on supermarket shelves, our homes are already built for us, and water is never in short supply. So in these conditions, can we consider ourselves to still be evolving? Have the natural threats that force evolution adapted as well to the times we live today?

In 1957, biologist Julian Huxley, brother to our beloved Aldous, coined the term “transhumanism” for the idea that we should use technology to transcend the limitations of our natural bodies. Huxley believed that “the human species could transcend itself” through “evolutionary humanism.”

Almost half a century later, transhumanism has become a real possibility, pointing the way to an unbelievably transcendent future that would have been unimaginable even for Huxley. The choices we are making today will determine what comes after human civilization.

In the pre-Enlightenment worldview, human beings were the pinnacle of creation, made in God’s image to dwell on a planet that was considered the center of the universe. Enlightenment thinking – particularly science – gradually eroded, and the focus on mankind as the nucleus eventually shifted to something grander than us.

Through the development of philosophical thinking and the evolutionary jump made by technology itself, postmodern civilization has surpassed the point where we humans are the pinnacle of anything anymore. Artificial Intelligence can already accomplish so much with very little effort, gradually rendering most human made processes obsolete.

The translation trade seems to be suffering from this “evolution” of what some might consider to be the next species: Homo machinae.

So, what is this dreaded creature that we would call the new pinnacle of evolution? Is it a cyborg of some sort? A biomechanical organism designed to optimize every process of human activity towards ultimate perfection? Will it have a “soul”? Well, the initial transition into Huxley’s transhumanism era doesn’t have to be so dramatic. For know, being able to commune with the technological tools at hand will more that suffice. That’s how we sapiens will adapt to this new coming age, thus “evolving” into the next stage. Just like Homo erectus picked up the tools to become Homo habilis, so must we take technology and use it to survive in this ever changing environment.

The translation industry (all industries really) fluctuates and changes constantly bringing new threats and opportunities every day.Those changes we must learn to perceive in order to meet new demands.

Clients want results faster and at lower costs. How can a regular human translator compete with a machine who can process vast volumes of work in merly seconds at just the click of a button?

The simplest most straightforward answer: They can’t compete, but they can adapt to survive.

MT output will always require human supervision in order to ensure high quality translations.

As long as AI doesn’t become able to replicate the human spark that allows for improvisation and extrapolation of chaotic data, in order to make some coherent sense out of what even Neural MT can’t always fully seem to understand, us humans will still have an important role to play in this sci-fi extravaganza of a world we’re still living in.

So let’s not try to fight the change out of fear of the unknown, but rather try to embrace it with open arms and become part of what’s coming instead of getting left behind like other linkless, nameless fossils of old age.