Dr. Pero Mićić

For as long as I can remember, people have said you have to learn foreign languages to be successful in your career. That could prove to be bad advice in the future. The reason: AI translators are getting better and better! What does this mean for your profession and your business?

Problem

Many major problems around the world could be solved better, faster, easier, and with less risk if people understood each other’s languages better. And the world would be way more peaceful.

Solution

Timekettle Technologies have developed what they call a Hearable that can perform real-time translations. You say something in your native language and the device translates it into one of 40 languages. Simultaneously, that is, instantly and immediately. Your conversation partners do exactly the same and you hear their statement in German. The Hearable WT2 Edge needs only 0.5 seconds for the translation and has an accuracy of up to 95%. Timekettle not only use their own translation engine, but also other leading systems such as DeepL and Google.

The seven most spoken languages in the world are stored offline so that translation works without an internet connection, soon many more languages will work even offline. Timekettle’s AI translator is not a crazy vision of the future. The system already works today. And you can buy it today.

Trends

In the trend system we are dealing with the trend intelligentization, there the sub-trend NLP, natural language processing by AI. And globalization is a factor as well.

Have you noticed the incredible progress that translation machines have made in recent years? How superbly AI systems can already translate texts and even spoken language? The first computer translators were around in the 1980s. Thank to neural networks we made a big leap in performance.

Did you see how perfectly Google Duplex made an appointment for a haircut? With a human on the phone in 2018, without her noticing on the other end of the line that she spoke with an AI?

Artificial intelligence is evolving exponentially. We’re still at the low flat point of the famous S-curve here. In a couple of years, translation engines won’t just be 20 or 30% better, they’ll be many times better. By several hundred percent. Hardly anyone can imagine how perfect translations and even simultaneous interpreting will be ten years from now.

Time horizon for AI translators

How fast will the change happen?

The performance of such technologies is increasing way faster than most people can imagine today. The spread of such hearables as Timekettle’s will also develop exponentially, depending on prices and how quickly people change their habits.

My future assumption: by 2030, automated interpreting will be very widespread, and will still be growing strongly.

Advantages

  1. Language barriers still hinder international cooperation in companies, authorities and organizations, and also in politics. The better we understand each other, the faster and easier we can solve the big problems of mankind. The world will be a better and more peaceful place.
  2. Millions of people, especially schoolchildren, torture themselves through conventional foreign language classes. However, too many of them never speak the foreign language well enough then.
  3. Many companies remain below their potential because language barriers hinder their internationalization an globalization.
  4. New markets are created for countless specialized machine translators.

Disadvantages

  1. People and companies that make a living teaching, translating and interpreting languages will see their market shrink dramatically. It will get smaller, software will do more and more of the work, but of course the market will not disappear entirely.
  2. Will cultural diversity be lost? I’ve long recommended that for professional reasons you should only learn English, if it is not your first language, and that as perfectly as possible. In the long run, you will simply gain too little benefit from learning other foreign languages and investing your lifetime to do so. This is because the translation systems today are already better than most foreign language learners can ever become, even if they have invested many hours, days and years into learning, often with great effort. The translation systems will beat you hands down. Soon in all common languages. And at minimal cost. Footnote: If you are a native speaker of English, I nevertheless recommend you become familiar with one other language that you have fun learning.

But for the rest of us? Why still English despite AI translators?

Because it is the current and future lingua franca, the language that more and more people will speak as a second language. And because you may not always be able or want to have such a universal translator in your ear. Or, because every now and then the battery simply runs out.

So, learn perfect English, but no more learning other foreign languages, okay?

Boy do I get protesting comments when I say this. One of them is: Oh no, the languages will disappear. There are already only 6500 languages in the world, many are already dead and gone. The cultural heritage will be irretrievably lost.

It is always fascinating to experience how people try to justify their emotional adherence to the familiar with supposedly logical arguments.

Who protests there, has unfortunately not thought i through logically. My recommendation is not, “learn only English and forget your mother tongue”. Languages are preserved because the number of native speakers is preserved. The foreign language learners play a less important role there. So this protest is going nowhere.

The second typical protest argument is that every foreign language one speaks gives you an additional perspective on the world. Then I read something like “well, my daughter studied in China and I don’t think that did her any harm”.

Ja absolut, das kann ich nur unterschreiben. Zitieren wir Goethe: “Wie viele Sprachen du sprichst, sooft mal bist du Mensch.” Oder anders: “Du hast so viele Leben, wie du Sprachen sprichst”.

Ich kenne das ja selbst. Ich bin in Belgrad geboren, früher Jugoslawien, heute Serbien. Folglich spreche ich das, was man früher Serbokroatisch nannte. Das ist meine Muttersprache. Großzügig gesagt, spreche und verstehe ich Serbisch, Kroatisch, Bosnisch und Montenegrinisch. Nicht, weil ich so genial bin, sondern weil das im Wesentlichen eine einzige Sprache ist, so ungefähr wie österreichisches und deutsches Deutsch. Bitte, meine Balkan-Freunde, ganz ruhig bleiben jetzt 😊. Wenn Ihr ehrlich seid, versteht Ihr Euch alle untereinander hervorragend. Sprachlich auf jeden Fall. Ich für mich habe jedenfalls entschieden, dass für mich all diese Länder, in denen eine Variante diese Sprache gesprochen wird, zu meiner Geburtsheimat zählen.

And yes, through this language I experience the world differently than without. When someone says AirPod, I have the association of “floor” with Pod, so a kind of “air floor”. It’s a pretty funny idea. I’m sure Salvador Dali would have painted a surrealistic picture of that.

When I hear glass, I not only see the pane or drinking glass, but I also feel the connotation of voice, because that’s what it’s called in South Slavic: tvoj glas is your voice.

So, to clarify my recommendation: I said “for professional reasons.” No one should torture themselves in the future to learn French or Mandarin for professional reasons. It’s just too much of a waste of your life time to do so, because you can never become as good as the translation and interpreting machines will be. And if you do, it will only be in that one language. But if the sound of French arouses you, if you enjoy the melody of Italian, if Mandarin creates an emotion of exoticism for you, if you feel that Swahili expands your perception of the world, then – go for it – enjoy learning, reading, listening and speaking these languages. As a hobby or as a linguistic discipline, any language is meaningful and beautiful.

What opportunities do AI translators open up?

Now what? What does this have to do with the future of your profession and your business?

  1. Where do you have touch points with spoken or written foreign languages in your business model? Or where might you have them? Where can you use automated translators and interpreters? You can do this for text, for images, for video, for audio. In the future, you can internationalize and globalize virtually effortlessly and at minimal cost.
  2. Where do you invest money and effort for – in the future and professionally – useless training in foreign languages other than English? For yourself, for your employees, for your descendants? I would reconsider that.
  3. If you even make a living from teaching languages, from translating and interpreting, it is really high time that you develop a future-proof business model. Either by focusing on specialized areas or by developing in a direction where the translation machines will remain permanently inferior to humans, such as in direct emotional and empathic communication with other people.

Have a bright future! 

Platzhalter

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