Google, Microsoft, Baidu, Yandex and Yahoo! are either getting paid or getting ready to be paid for translation through advertising revenue.

By Jaap van der Meer

Sustainable Growth Series

Google, Microsoft, Baidu, Yandex and Yahoo! are either getting paid or getting ready to be paid for translation through advertising revenue. Giving access to multilingual information increases their user base and raises cash. Lots of it. They are setting an example that many others would like to emulate.

Anyone who fails to see the fundamental shift in the demand for translation from the traditional buyer to the billions of citizens, patients, tax payers and consumers, is just scratching the surface of the vast potential for the global language industries.

The European Commission tell us that each EU citizen is paying on average €2 per year to fund the one Billion Euro translation budget of the Directorate General of Translation, by far the largest in the world.

We can rightfully say that translation is already being paid for in different ways than the word-price model.

Data-driven machine translation is still in its infancy and the language industry is only just starting to work with this technology on a material scale. We are only at the beginning of an innovation journey that will include game changing shifts for both buyers and providers of translation as they seek to adapt their models to the 21st century.

By 2020 English will already have lost its status as a lingua franca. And no new lingua franca will replace English as a language of commerce. Linguistic diversity is the new reality and machine translation technology will help us to communicate despite all its shortcomings and the inevitable partial understanding.

We can expect that by 2020 automated translation tools will be embedded into every device, application and website. Imagine a web of hundreds of thousands of automatic translators trained not only for a few languages and industry sectors, but tuned to a myriad of language pairs, many sub-domains and customised for every company and offering. Such large-scale, if basic, translation can only be paid for in ways that don’t exist now.

We can expect a whole new technical infrastructure and service base for our industry. A layer to provide access to language data: the fuel for machine translation. Another layer that organises and prepares the data for use. The ‘pipes’ that channel data to and from tools and devices. A sea of people needed to keep such an infrastructure running.

In this context TAUS Data is just a first generation incarnation of such an industry utility. In a meeting taking place later this week, on March 1, in San Jose (CA, USA) forty bright minds from the TAUS community and beyond are meeting to brainstorm ‘TAUS Data Vision 2020’.

This group knows that the web of many automatic translators will need the dedication and support of specialists in all business languages of the world. That this web will need to be fed with endless streams of translated words. That this web will need innovative and collaborative infrastructures with shared revenue models abound.

The ubiquitous availability of translation will also stimulate demand for premium services and better communications. Innovators from outside and within the translation industry will jump in with new solutions and new business ideas. Their added value will be in providing linguistic intelligence – i.e. deriving knowledge from masses of data; customised technology – i.e. fit for purpose solutions; and, hyper-localisation – i.e. genuinely targeted communication, all of which will leverage the basic utility infrastructure.

Companies that now focus on plain vanilla translation services will need to either acquire machine translation know-how or face marginalisation. The CEO who understands that his company needs to make a drastic shift from a product localisation practice to an enterprise-wide language strategy will get paid for translation. Translators who specialise in high-value marketing communications and accuracy-demanding medical, legal and financial texts and integrated software messages, they will get paid for translation.

But by 2020 words will be ‘free’

In 2020 words are ‘free’. Almost every word has already been translated before. Our words will be stored somewhere and used again, legitimately in the eyes of the law or not. Every word and every sentence may be recycled and used, whether protected or not, to train an automatic translator to translate better. Even today ‘robots’ are crawling websites to retrieve billions of words that help to train machine translation engines. The latent demand for translation created by unprecedented globalisation is making piracy an act of common sense: words are being shared knowingly or not. By 2020 the language industry will already have faced up to and moved on from such a reality.

Languages and their words belong to us all. We must always distinguish truly creative work, trademarks, poems and unique brands. But beyond that why should we prevent our fellow speakers of languages from using ‘our’ words. These words that belong to us all. The more words we share, the better we can communicate, the better for commerce and society. By 2020 the ‘freeing’ of words will have stimulated a virtuous cycle of innovation in translation and language services so that many more people than now get paid or translation.

Source and image: TAUS