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Is technology here to assist us or replace us?

Looking back at the last 300 years, we can say that humankind has made enormous progress in terms of science and technology - which was what the industrial revolution was all about. But language teachers and translators alike are now asking whether technology is here to assist us or replace us?

 

The invention of computers and the internet has had a massive effect on how much we know, and how we do things such as working or learning. Technology has significantly accelerated the progress we make. Technological innovation has resulted in the automatization and optimisation of certain processes including linguistics, where a lot has changed and continues to change in areas such as language learning, language teaching and translation.

 

Learner Experience

As a language learner, I really value technology, as it gives great flexibility in terms of timing and convenience, providing access to a huge number of resources. Technology gives us a phenomenal opportunity to immerse ourselves in the learning process. It has made learning more interactive through the use of apps, videos, online assessmentsand online tuition. Translation, on the other hand, relies on technical and specialised terms, which need to be considered in context (preferably by a human), meaning that technology plays less of a role here. That said, micro-scale translation can be done using apps because you don’t have to carry a hardback dictionary anymore; these have been replaced by smart-phone apps - a more convenient alternative, which also make language learning easier than ever before!

 

Language Teaching

In terms of language teaching, humans are even more important now than ever, because reliance on technology not only means we miss out on the lack of interaction but may also take longer or not delve deep enough to make significant progress. We see this with a lot of free resources available, where learning means skimming through the content to boost confidence on your next vacation. Language teaching, especially in the context of business is indispensable because of this depth that makes all the difference. A job that is easily replaceable by a robot will soon be done by the robot, but in the business community, roles that require empathy, creativity or collaboration are considered safe (cnbc.com). Business people will, however, need soft skills such as languages to really thrive, and for this they’ll need language teachers.

 

 

AI Translation

In a sense, we are talking about process vs project, with learning being a gradual process and translation amounting to a project that can be computerized. It may be the case that computerization, thanks to Artificial Intelligence (AI) makes translation fully automated, however, we are still a distance from this. At present, reliance on computerized translation can be outright dangerous for a company's reputation (multilingual.com). AI is the future, but it lacks consciousness and is not capable of understanding human emotions, when it comes to our field, human translation is essential. At the moment, machine learning's effectiveness is limited by this (MIT Tech Review). We may never get there, depending on how the AI consciousness debate unravels so the best that we can do is to wait and see. Technology may help with translations but the human factor is critical when it comes to accuracy and so it’s more likely that we won’t see an outright replacement of humans, but instead a hybrid model of human + technology which offers the best balance of efficiency and accuracy overall.

 

Final Verdict

Technology has the potential to skyrocket and areas such as AI can eventually “catch-up” with humans on human-specific skills but it’s unlikely that they will serve as a replacement, in particular in creative fields like teaching. When used by teachers, they can, however, augment the experience and enable teachers to become even more resourceful, considering differences in learning styles. However, as we can see from the example of translation, augmenting does not equal replacing, what it does mean is improving the effectiveness and equipping the human with a better tool, much like just over 300 years ago with the industrial revolution.

 

So for now, we'll happily continue working side by side with our digital counterparts, until the day they start to work a little too well! 

 

PLS are always looking for talented language teachers who are comfortable integrating digital resources into their lessons whilst teaching face to face or online. Get in touch today if this is you and you'd like to support our learners meet their language learning goals!

 

 

 

References:

CNBC, (2019), URL: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/14/the-oracle-of-ai-these-kinds-of-jobs-will-not-be-replaced-by-robots-.html

Cornell University, (2018), Has Machine Translation Achieved Human Parity? A Case for Document-level Evaluation by Samuel LäubliRico SennrichMartin Volk, URL: https://arxiv.org/abs/1808.07048 

Harari, Yuval N. (2016). Homo deus: a brief history of tomorrow.

MIT Technology Review, (2018), URL: https://www.technologyreview.com/2018/09/05/140487/human-translators-are-still-on-top-for-now/

Multilingual.com, (2020), URL: https://multilingual.com/bahrain-ikea-mistranslates-ad-makes-recovery/ 

Tegmark, Max. (2017). Life 3.0: being human in the age of artificial intelligence.

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