It was great to find myself at TAUS again – or to be more precise, to attend the annual conference of the Translation Automation User Society, held in Vancouver, B.C. on October 10 and 11. It’s of course an extremely beautiful city, and luckily the weather was fine, and the venue at the Fairmont Vancouver inspiring. All very conducive to attracting a selective group of 120 or so passionate leaders in the translation automation space, for an intensive two days of debate and discussion. The TAUS discussions usually set the tone for industry topics in the coming year, so it is an important barometer for determining strategy and focus. Because of that, this year SDL sent a team of executives to the event, to join in the panel talks, present SDL’s innovation “pitch” and hear the tone and content of the many strategic discussions.
I have mentioned in past posts that one thing I really love about the TAUS conference is that it is single-track, with everyone all in one room, and with a capped number of participants so that you can have more in-depth discussion. This year, the theme was right in line with SDL’s sweet spot: Global Intelligent Content Delivery in the Age of AI. That’s an ambitious title but it has 3 elements which are at the core of everything SDL does: “Global” “Content” and now “AI”. As a company we have spent the past year intensively focused on helping customers build “Global Content Operating Models” using our content management and language technology and services. And we have been on a journey to take our MT machine learning/AI expertise and work it into everything we do internally and externally, building toward the “Five Future States of Content” we have presented in events around the world.
Content Makes The World Go Round
So it was a natural for our Chief Revenue Officer, Thomas Labarthe, to join in the opening “Content Makes The World Go Round” session and on the second day to join in the CEO conversation talking about the impact that global intelligent content will have on the way companies operate and do business. We see this today already as our customers continue linking their content management systems to their translation management systems for a unified content flow across the enterprise, that is measured, reused and enriched by intelligent use of available data. Many of the TAUS membership are also SDL customers and you could hear this theme coming through loud and clear across all the discussions.
The TAUS conference has always been an extremely useful forum for connecting and inspiring participants to explore new technologies to optimize global content. Back in the early 2000s when TAUS was founded, most of the discussion and debate was around machine translation and taking the first baby steps to use it. This year, a major theme of the conference was how Neural MT (NMT) looks like it is going to be a giant step forward, and not a baby step.
We knew this already going into the conference via SDL’s own NMT work, but it was amazing and encouraging to see how machine translation in general is now a completely accepted and adopted tool, and how much closer NMT is bringing us to human translation parity. There is still an issue with supply of translation resources being concentrated in a relatively small number of top languages, but there is some hope for new MT training methods that will reduce the gap. There was also a very interesting discussion on the ethical issues involved in expanding MT, such as the effect on human translators’ livelihood, the chances of machines making catastrophic mistakes (like humans sometimes do) and how MT may propagate on a large scale biases introduced in human translation, such as assumptions on gender and race. With the humanitarian organization Translators Without Borders in the audience, we even had some debate about how MT could potentially amplify international conflict through propagating hate speech via translation… and is the translator responsible for holding to the exact translation of that, or should they try to tone it down. These were fascinating questions that we have not seen in the TAUS arena before, and they are only emerging now because MT has become so widely accepted and high performing.
A related technology topic that got a lot of positive attention was automated speech to text transcription coupled with translation. We saw it in action during one of the presentations, with the presenter’s English speech being transcribed on-screen and an audience member running it in real-time through Brazilian Portuguese MT, with pretty good results. It is clear that this is now a mainstream tool – it’s good enough, people are comfortable with it, and it has an extremely practical real-life value.
An Exciting Future
We have had “voice” applications as a topic at TAUS for a number of years, and this was the first time it felt like it had crossed over into the everyday world as a common tool – like it has “arrived”. That was very exciting to see.
Also very exciting was the “new kid on the block” – blockchain. While we have all heard a lot about blockchain in cryptocurrency and other financial applications, leveraging it with translation is a fairly new idea. It appeals both from the perspective of the individual translator who wants to be compensated in some way as their work gets reused, and from the perspective of the translation consumer who wants to have confidence in the provenance and accuracy of the translation. We heard two very different-sounding approaches at the conference, but it is still early days and there are a lot of details to be worked out. There will be changes to the “story” but the important thing is that now the concept has been introduced, we can be discussing and refining where and how it applies to making translations ever-more useful.
In retrospect, this was one of the best TAUS conferences I have attended. There were some years when MT was a known topic but only a few attendees were into it, and there was not a lot of evolution in the audience experiences or ability to contribute. Now, everybody is using MT and the discussion and debate is much richer because so many people have actual experience to talk about now. That, and the excitement of seeing Voice applications finally break through, and seeing that blockchain is lining up to go through that same journey…well, it was pretty darn exciting. Things are different now. I can’t wait to hear the progress next year!
Regarding machine translation and global content optimization, another great place to hear the latest trends will be SDL’s Connect conference, coming up soon on November 7-8 in Santa Clara. For more information and to register, please click here.
Hope to see you there!