CAT tools, neural machine translation, NEC TM, blockchain, M&A...
Two weeks of January have already gone by, which provides some perspective on what happened at Pangeanic and in the translation industry in 2018. Here’s a year in review: what defined the translation industry, what language technologies affect the profession, which developments took place at Pangeanic and what we believe will influence the foreseeable future and beyond.
Reflecting on another year in the translation industry
The size of the translation industry does not stop growing. Any forecast keeps on falling short, as more and more technologies are now “language related” and translation incorporates more Natural Language Processing features. Language technologies (that is, language analysis technologies) keep affecting and making our industry develop in unforeseen ways. It may be no surprise, then, that in an industry such as the translation industry, disruptive changes are more apparent than in other industries. Much of what happened in the past year could continue affecting the remainder of 2019, and it may leave its mark for even longer.
1. The continuing rise of Machine Translation (and the growing acceptance of it)
PangeaMT has been Pangeanic’s machine translation brand since 2010. Resistance to statistical machine translation post-editing has been a hot potato for many years. However, the rise of neural networks changed not only the landscape development, but also the way translators—both experienced and novel—perceived the work generated by software and their role as providers of a service. It is more than clear that translators’ capabilities and knowledge are enhanced by machine translation, and their work can become more creative by using the technology. Only the translators who translate as machines will be replaced by machines. Technology providers continue to invest huge amounts of money in the development of increasingly better machine translation systems. Translation companies use these systems to reduce their costs and provide faster services in an ever more competitive world with shorter deadlines. Most translators spend time and energy embracing the technology, although there are still some professionals that refuse technology altogether. Digital natives are less squeamish when it comes to post-editing than established translators who have invested years of learning to use CAT tools and terminology management programs. Despite the lack of a major break-through or something to shake the industry to its foundations, it seems nevertheless that machine translation technology is continuously gaining ground and has become another tool for the use of certain clients and situations—although the majority of translation clients still demand the “publishable quality” that can only be achieved with human intervention. Whilst it still seems that many in the translation industry are not ready to embrace the future, we at Pangeanic believe that machine translation has become embedded and is part of our DNA. And other companies are basing their vision purely in post-editing models.
2. Pangeanic will provide Translation Memory Server databases for the European Commission and EU Member States
Heralding an open-source movement by championed by the EU, Pangeanic won another EU contract to open-source ActivaTM and make it the National and European Central Translation Memory. This database will allow Public Administrations at EU Member States to centralize their translation assets in TMX format and apply industry practices—such as fuzzy analysis and on-line connections from translation contractors—whilst creating a national repository of translation memories and, of course, national bilingual Big Data. The project is also analyzing the size of the translation industry derived from public administrations, so that each Member State can realize the savings that can be achieved through data centralization.
3. CAT tools go mobile
Mobile devices have become part of our daily lives, and it is difficult to find somebody who does not own a smartphone or tablet. Initially, these smart devices only served as entertainment and for simple business tasks, like emailing. The CAT tool industry soon realized how much time people spend online and how mobile we have become, doing many tasks on the go. Memsource’s announcement of a mobile app for translations sounded very promising, but in the end, it only turned out to be an app for project management. SDL has its Online Translation Editor, MemoQ can be used online, and Smartling, SmartCat and Lilt are native web apps where translators can do their jobs. Our own PangeaBox will become available as a web editor and post-editing satellite in 2019. This changes the way translators work and the way in which they can work, as well as the time when they can offer their translation services. As CAT tools are no longer only available on desktops, they can also be used on the go. They still do not work as intuitively or as easily as in their more mature, non-portable family members, but they do serve a purpose and can be of real help when a task needs to be completed online, particularly for general content translation. The introduction of Hey MemoQ points to a marriage of mobile apps and desktop apps in the making, but Hey MemoQ is currently only available for iPhone users. In any case, smartphones and tablets will gain more ground in the future. In an interesting move in a similar direction, SDL and Kilgray both introduced new versions of SDL Trados Studio and MemoQ. The future will surely lie in the use of web-based CAT tools and a growing need for post-editing services that are clocked and charged by the hour, not by the word. 2019 may be an interesting year that could mark a shift away from desktop-based translation software and closer to CAT tools in the cloud.
4. The blockchain debate
Since the enormous rise of Bitcoin, companies have shown an increasing interest in its underlying technology—the blockchain. Blockchain technology is already around 10 years old, but translation companies are only now beginning to see its benefits. During 2018, some industry professionals debated on Slator.com and The Open Mic about the endless possibilities that blockchain offers to the translation industry in terms of transparency and accountability. Nothing concrete happened in 2018, and some of these visions are at the level of fantasies and daydreams, but with blockchain gaining ground and companies investing huge amounts in developing their own blockchain technologies, there is still a slim chance that the technology behind cryptocurrencies might also have an impact in the translation industry. Nobody can envision how disruptive or groundbreaking it could be for our industry if we assume human services or machine-made translations. There can be doubts as to whether this technology will ever reach translation, but the first talks about blockchain and translation services were had in 2018. Let’s keep the conversation open.
5. Continuing mergers and acquisitions
In an era in which ownership of the technologies that make a company different are defining success and have become a key element of survival, translation companies are seeking to expand their foothold by merging with and acquiring competitors. In the past year, a few big mergers and acquisitions took place or were completed, with SDL acquiring Donnelley Language Solutions at USD 77.5 million, TransPerfect buying TranslateNow, and Moravia becoming part of the RWS family following an acquisition. Of course, there is still room for smaller or regional companies, but large players are looking for new candidates for acquisition all the time, in order to serve their clients better in some countries or verticals. Some of these companies are joining investment rounds or raising IPOs with the ultimate goal of becoming publicly owned. This might give rise to questions about the resulting quality in translation as a product, since shareholders' hunger for higher profits can result in lower rates or lower technological requirements that impact the quality of translations. However, that is not a settled matter. It is not as easy as assuming that the best translations are created by the largest companies. The future will bring more details about how the size and capital of a translation company can impact the quality of a translation.