From February 28 to March 2, 2017, the 33rd LocWorld Conference was held in Shenzhen, China. Google, Alibaba, IBM, and 300 other business representatives from approximately 30 countries gathered together with experts in localization to discuss how AI and automated translation is changing the world economy. Shunee Yee, founder and CEO of CSOFT International, delivered a keynote speech on the “Future of Work”, which drew great attention.
Shunee Yee led the panel with Weihe Zhong, President of Guangdong University of Foreign Studies and Vice Chairman of the National Committee for Translation, and David Zeng，Halliburton’s Country Vice President for China. They all shared their opinions on how machine translation and big data is shaping the language service industry as well as outlining the challenges the localization industry faces in this new era. The discussion panel attracted hundreds of localization experts to the main conference room.
Will Automatic Intelligence Takeovers from the Movies Come True?
Ray Kurzweil, Google’s technical director and expert in the field of artificial intelligence, predicted at the 2016 Techonomy conference that machines will outsmart humans by the year 2029. By the 2030s, virtual reality will begin to feel 100% real, and we will even be able to upload our minds by the end of the decade. By the 2040s, non-biological intelligence will be far more capable than biological intelligence.
Will languages be replaced? In the movie Ex-Machina, intelligent robots with independent thinking ability could ably communicate with people. With the boundaries between people and machines becoming more blurred, could it be possible that what we see in the movies become a reality? Would our industry still be relevant? Does China have a chance to lead the development of the Future of Work?
Yee believes that “the development of artificial intelligence is very likely to make the scenes in the movies come true, and those innovative Chinese companies will take this opportunity to become pioneers in the technology industry”.
The Language Service Industry is at a Crossroads
The localization industry in the 1990s was mainly focused in North America and Europe and supported multinational companies in exporting software products. The industry rose rapidly among global markets in the past decade. China’s language industry was initiated in the 1990s and, during that period, most of the translation was from Western languages to Chinese. In the 21st century, however, things have changed due to increased economic globalization and the “one belt one road” initiative done by the Chinese government. The translation industry became more dynamic with more languages involved and more business interacted. More and more Chinese companies are striving to go global, so the needs of the language service industry grew rapidly.
Yee went on to say, “the development of the Chinese language industry is at a crossroads and technological innovation has brought new requirements for language services providers.” In the 1990s, English was the major source language and most translation was labor intensive with few machine translations involved. In 2020, English, along with a number of other languages, will become major source languages, while machine translation does half of the job. By 2040, it is expected that most translations will be done by machines with little help from humans.
“The big data era is pushing the development of artificial intelligence, and it is clearly the trend of the future.” Yee said, “China has transformed into the largest digital market in the world and, with its rapid growth on e-commerce and industrial automation, the Internet of Things will also have a huge market. It is expected that by 2021, the Internet economy will account for 22% of China’s total GDP”.
Professor Weihe Zhong mentioned “it is important to set industry standards in an upcoming new era of language services. The technology revolution in the language industry also provides opportunities for talented people. We need to train the younger generations more to help them as well as helping ourselves to fit in the market.”