I am confused and just slightly irritated by the minor uproar rippling through the translator world again this week, so much so, that rather than seething alone, I am going to respond here, while donning my chain-mail in anticipation of being speared from all angles by my peers in the trade!
Albeit a temporary distraction to the other, rather more serious, ongoing debate of rates for freelancers, the murmur of discontent this time was triggered by the ‘revelation’ that Google Translate claims rights to all information uploaded through its translator and can reuse such information as it likes. Shock. Horror! … a completely new image of the internet emerges as being potentially unsafe – open to universal publication of information and breaches of confidentiality! … Yawn.
My reaction, when I read an article this morning, warning all users of the tool to be aware, they actually DO this!! … is, “of course they do” ! Google is offering a service and is providing the technology to aid recipients of a text in one language to understand it in another – increasingly necessary in world of rolling globalisation and international networking. In order to provide that service, they need source material … and where else are they going to get it from??
A professional translator is rarely happy with the quality of automated translation output as end material … it is a well-known fact that for anything other than a bog-standard sentence with vocabulary no more complex than that utilised by the modern day ten-year old, one can spend more time correcting a text translated ‘online’ than one would have done translating it oneself in the first place, which just begs the question: if we moan about the quality of online translators, surely it is illogical to bemoan the fact that the hosts of such tools are endeavouring to increase the quality of them on an ongoing basis by extending their database of material to ensure more reliable matches in the future … material that we, as ‘capable translators’ have supplied …
Another couple of questions I have for those crippled by the shock: Should we not be targeting everyone other than the professional translators with regard the warning of potential risk to NDAs .. I mean, the title ‘professional translator’, by definition, surely refers to someone who can take a source text and is able to rewrite it in a different language, (creating the exact same meaning of that text while maintaining tone, nuance and flow etc etc) …. and not to someone who takes a source text and pushes it through an online translator, correcting one or two bits of grammar and submitting to a client as ‘done’ … oder?? So why is the ‘professional translation’ world writhing in such discomfort? Where is the real danger here? Agreed, the majority of translators call up online tools to check vocabulary and perhaps an unknown turn-of-phrase but I am confused as to how uploading ‘a line or so’ of ‘random’ text can reduce a bunch of professionals to such a quivering wreck … I mean, that’s all we do, isn’t it .. ie upload ‘random words and sentences’ …. ?? I can’t imagine any self-respecting translation professional being so daft as to lift entire documents into these things and pretend they are doing the work themselves … no, really, people don’t do that … do they?? I, personally, would be thoroughly disappointed in my profession to learn that I am in the minority by claiming I have only used Google Translate possibly three times in my translation career – and even then, more out of curiosity than ‘need’. I actually like to think of myself as the translator, not as a machine arm. Somewhat archaic perhaps but I have my favourite dictionaries and a good thesaurus … and these are my tools, not my slaves.
The blog I read this morning outlining the issue as a warning to its audience claims: “I have heard of instances in which Google has returned 100% perfect matches on translation units containing proprietary client information (including company names).” … well it would, wouldn’t it! How is a machine supposed to distinguish between a company name or product and any other noun / verb etc … ! Sorry, but for fear of stating the obvious, is this not just one of the serious benefits of us doing the work ourselves … (i.e. the work we claim we are qualified to do!) – not only can we review our terminology but we can exercise discretion .. a human feature not yet proven infallible in the zeros and ones of technology. Common sense alone says, if you push an entire document through an online translation machine, it cannot and will not filter out confidential information unless you tell it to or unless it has the inbuilt capability to do so. But then, why ever would we do that anyway?? We are not working on a production line here yet … are we??
Finally, given the volume of material being submitted through the translator even on an hourly basis, I am loathe to think that even Google has the resources to sift, lift and restore select information pertaining to individual business enterprise, for the sole purpose of abusing the content. If the company really was so inclined, it would surely come up with an easier, more resource-efficient method than this! The risks of breach are there, but no more and no less than they would be at any other time when we are faced with the decision: ‘should I or should I not post this on the internet’. It is not an issue unique to Google, nor is it a new one on us as translators, as professionals, nor as ‘people’. As participators and voluntary users of this global technology, we expose ourselves and, indeed, potentially also our clients to these risks on a daily basis, as part of our everyday lives. It is, however, up to US as to how we go about protecting our own rights. We have the ability and indeed the responsibility to carry out the initial censorship of all material submitted anywhere online.
For the translators among us who are still unduly worried, perhaps there is, however, a simple answer: we stop trying to cheat the system and instead, perform the task that our clients are depending on us to perform … i.e. ‘Real’ human analysis of the source text and a responsible translation of that into the target language, using our own knowledge, our own experience and our own discretion in the utilisation of tools to help us. If we do not possess these capabilities, then maybe, quite simply, we should be doing something else.