Meta’s universal translator will not be the end of human translation

Will Meta’s Universal Translator mean the end of human translations in the translation agency? This article examines why it will be difficult to create one.

For those who grew up watching sci-fi shows, like Star Trek, you must have remembered the Universal Translator? It was one of the most interesting technologies featured on the show as it allowed Captain Kirk’s team to understand the alien language of the natives they encountered in real time.

We have pocket translators and real life online translation tools, any translation agency would know that they are prone to translation errors even for simple sentences. But that hasn’t stopped Mark Zuckerberg, the owner of Meta, which runs social media giants like Facebook and Instagram, from starting to develop AI-powered technology that can help us communicate with anyone. whatever their language.

Today we are going to discuss the Universal Translator, the current technology developed by the translation agency, and why this technology will not mean the end of human translation. To learn more about it, keep reading!

Meta’s Universal Translator

To begin our discussion of the Universal Meta Translator, let’s first discuss what it is. According to Meta’s blog, this is a translation-based initiative that aims to create AI programs with a standardized writing system that will allow them to learn how to translate from one language to another. other without needing many examples for its formation.

It also aims to develop real-time translation speech without relying on writing, which most translation apps do.

This initiative is being taken due to the rise of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) platforms, as it would “break” these barriers. However, this long-term Meta project currently has no clear timeline or roadmap to achieve its goal. This sparked a lot of discussion within the translation services agency regarding the future of their industry.

The technological evolution of the translation industry over the years

The first successful translation technology was in the 1950s, a collaborative effort between IBM and Georgetown University. He had a very limited vocabulary range, as he could only translate about 250 words from Russian to English.

Since then, translation technology has improved tremendously to the point that it helps almost all translation service agencies provide accurate and timely delivery to multiple industries.

This technology has influenced the translation industry and other sectors of society, but it has also helped all Internet users. GWI reported that a third of working-age online users use online translation tools every week to translate text. But they said that number could be higher in some places.

The term AI originally referred to any technology supporting the translation process at the 1956 Dartmouth conference. Meta’s attempt to create a universal translator, although they were not the first to start building one one, will be the first with the aim that it be used in a real-time online interactive platform.

Despite the progress of AI in more than a decade, it is still in its infancy. In turn, this affects the development of translation technology. However, the fact that they are starting to create an AI system that translates speech in real time without having to convert it to text is a commendable effort.

What a universal translator means for the virtual world

As mentioned, the development of a universal translator is due to the rise of VR and AR platforms. Meta recognized that although the most commonly spoken languages ​​such as English, Spanish and Mandarin are available in multiple translation tools, around 20% of the entire world population is left behind in this regard.

For this reason, oral communication in the virtual world will become important as it enables a more immersive experience for users. Currently, most voice translation technology follows a text-to-speech system before it can be translated. This delays the translation process and increases the risk of miscommunication.

Currently, many machine translations used online and by professional translation agencies follow the statistical model which relies on the syntax and format of the text and the machine’s experience with certain language pairs. Due to these limitations, it is no wonder that Meta is creating a virtual interpretation device that will allow speech-to-speech translation immediately without going through a third platform.

What a Universal Translator Means in the Real World

Meta’s announcement of the creation of a universal translator has sparked a lot of discussion among professional translation agencies. If successful, this would allow people with access to Meta’s platforms to communicate with users around the world, much like Star Trek characters.

It could also improve the translation agency’s translation apps and devices because, as mentioned, most of them still rely on speech-to-text translation frameworks. Integrating an AI framework into the Universal Translator could revolutionize the way we communicate because we wouldn’t have to rely on an interpreter to translate what we say.

But this is all moot, as applying the AI ​​implementation to create speech-to-speech translation will take time.

Meta’s current translation technology, the same used by Facebook and Instagram, has been criticized for being inaccurate. An example of the seriousness of this situation occurred in 2017 when Israeli police arrested a Palestinian man because Facebook’s machine translation mistranslated his Facebook post into Arabic which meant “hello” to “hurt them” in English and “attack them” in Hebrew. .

Meta can guarantee the quality of its translation software by having it evaluated by organizations and associations, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). A translation agency that uses machine translation post-editing (MTPE) obtains and obtains ISO 18587:2017 certification to help determine the quality of its translations. It also assesses the skills of their post-editing specialists and linguists working with these technologies.

Why Universal Translators Won’t End Human Translation

Even though Mark Zuckerberg thinks we’ll have a universal translator in our lifetime thanks to AI, it’s a difficult feat. This is because the language is constantly changing. The meaning of specific words and phrases can change from generation to generation. Because a generation has a total span of 20-30 years, there is a problem of technology not being able to catch up with changes in grammar, slang, definitions, and dictionary accepted words.

One of the challenges that big tech companies face when it comes to building translation software is that even though one language is used in different countries, one language creates multiple variations as it is adapted in each country.

Hispanic countries are an example. In most Spanish-speaking countries, the English word for “baby” is “bebe”. However, in Chile, “guagua” means baby, while “guagua” means bus in Cuba. And so, taking into account the cultural nuance of any target country is essential because you could easily offend the people you are trying to attract, which translation technology still lacks.

The future of professional translation agencies

Those mentioned above are some of the many problems and challenges that Meta will encounter when creating a universal translator. This is also why many professional translation agencies still rely on linguists to manage projects and why we shouldn’t worry about the machines that will soon take over the translation industry.

Regardless of the development of Meta’s speech-to-speech translation software, the most likely outcome is that linguists will always be needed to facilitate communication in the virtual world. Because despite its completion through machine learning technology, it is not guaranteed that the machines will have a sufficient level of cultural nuance to provide accurate translations. Overreliance on the Universal Translator for communication could cause problems like what happened to the Palestinians who just posted “hello” on Facebook.


We still have a long way to go before we can achieve a fully functional universal translator, and only time will tell if we’ll be carrying devices like the Star Trek crew when we travel the real and virtual world in the years to come. to come. So far, the biggest problem Meta will have to solve is to ensure the quality of the translation, which will most likely end up with human translators still managing the technology like what the translation agency is doing now.

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