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Machine translation can seem like an easy and cost-effective proposition when you need content translating in to another language – or several.

But truthfully, it isn’t working. In fact, philosopher and writer Daniel Lewewych doubts if it ever will. Why? Because, in his opinion (which is widely shared), we haven’t  invented “conscious robots” that are capable of taking the job off our hands. “Rather, as it stands, we have super-intelligent AI that, on the whole, is very narrow in its abilities,” he explains.

So, what does this mean to you if you’re currently using machine translation, or you’re thinking about it?

Machine Translation “will be difficult if not impossible to develop” 

In short, machine translation has gone as far as it can – which isn’t far enough to replace human sensibilities. You see, machine translation can be useful to an extent. But it can’t navigate nuances, for example –

  • Hyperbole – Terms like having a brain the size of a pea, or racing as fast as greased lightning, they confuse AI, because it can’t decipher subtleties.
  • Metaphor – Referring to somebody as a diamond in the rough, or an early bird catching the worm, metaphors perplex AI even more than hyperbole. It’s incapable of taking them anything other than literally.
  • Sarcasm – Take a phrase like, “I can hardly wait”, spoken in an apathetic tone. As human beings, we understand that the person saying it is distinctly underwhelmed. Not to suggest that your business content is peppered with snarkiness. But machine translation isn’t capable of picking up on sarcasm or conveying tone of voice.

So, ask yourself, how good a job is it doing for you? Are you confident that it’s representing you, authentically, professionally and correctly, to your overseas clients and prospects?


At Accutranslate, we provide first class translation services in all languages, to a broad variety of private sector companies and public sector organisations. You can rely on us to bring the human touch to new translations from scratch, or to proofread and edit your machine translation before you use it.

The subtle art of language: why artificial general intelligence might be impossible, Daniel Lewewych, Big Think