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Generative AI Threatens Translator Jobs, Survey Reveals

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A recent survey conducted by the Society of Authors (SoA) found that more than a third of translators have lost work because of generative AI. The SoA is a large trade union in the UK for writers, illustrators, and translators. Over 40% of translators reported a decrease in income due to this emerging technology, and over three-quarters believe it will continue to negatively impact their earnings.

The survey, carried out in January, revealed that 37% of translators have used generative AI to aid their work, with 8% doing so because of requests from publishers or commissioning organizations.

Generative AI Threatens Translator Jobs, Survey Reveals

Thomas Bunstead, a translator specializing in Spanish works, pointed out a difference between literary and “commercial” translators. He mentioned that while some translators may have lost work to AI, literary translation, which requires more nuanced understanding, remains primarily in human hands.

Nichola Smalley, who translates from Swedish and Norwegian, agreed, stating that idiomatic and complex writing will likely continue to require human translators. However, she expressed concerns that translators of genres like crime and romance novels, which are more susceptible to AI, may face tougher competition in the future.

Ian Giles, co-chair of the Translators Association, noted a significant decrease in his income from commercial translation work since the start of 2023. He highlighted a shift in some publishers towards using AI for translation, followed by human editors to refine the text. This process, known as post-editing, aims to enhance productivity while maintaining quality.

Despite the potential benefits of integrating AI into translation workflows, there are concerns among translators. Smalley mentioned that post-editing can lead to additional work, as translators must carefully review AI-generated text for errors and style issues.

The survey also highlighted translators’ desire for recognition and compensation when their work is used to develop AI tools. The SoA emphasized the need for government regulation to ensure the ethical and lawful development and use of AI in translation.

Despite these challenges, translators remain optimistic about the future of their profession. Giles expressed confidence in the enduring demand for human-translated content, driven by both translators’ passion for their craft and readers’ preference for quality translations.

Source: Theguardian