The Latest News in Translation: Deepfake Voices, Beijing Olympics, and More

COVID-19 is all that’s on people’s minds. After all, how could we not think about it, when it’s taken so many people and jobs away from us? But while workers in some industries have taken detrimental blows to their livelihoods (e.g. hospitality, airlines), other industries have flourished by taking advantage of the pandemic-era shift into the virtual workspace. Translation is one of them. 

The translation industry has experienced substantial growth in the last two years, citing reasons such as virtual work environments (in light of the pandemic) and increase in media consumption. Today, we’d like to highlight some recent news in the translation sector as a way to discover new trends and meaningful developments in the industry. What does this news tell us about the direction of the translation industry, and how can we stay up to date in this ever-developing industry? Perhaps this article will give you some ideas. 


Stanford University study reveals AI communication favors privileged populations

When we think of artificial intelligence, we tend to think of it as a universal, democratic accomplishment, as if developing a machine nearing human parity is an achievement of the times, a lasting proof of our zeitgeist. However, a 2021 study by researchers at the Stanford Social Media Lab found that developments in AI-mediated communication tools (including transcription, translation, and voice-assisted communication) will be “positively associated with access, socio-economic factors such as education and annual income, and AI-mediated communication tool literacy.” In other words, developments in AI will primarily serve the needs of the privileged population, not its less privileged, under-resourced counterpart. 

The study engaged with various aspects of the computer-human relationship, documenting which kind of AI-mediated communication tool people used the most (voice-assisted communication, language correction, predictive text suggestion) and who was most likely to use it (younger, digital native users). Obvious enough, the results clearly show that the demographics most positively affected by the adoption of AI-mediated tools were middle- and upper-class citizens with “unaccented English.” “Sadly, as we might expect, people with lower amounts of income and people with lower levels of education were much less likely to know about these technologies and use or engage with them in their lives,” said Jeff Hancock, founder and director of the Stanford Social Media Lab.

These cold realities of the current state of AI development force us to ask the question: how do we go about making technology more equally available to people, regardless of class, language, and education? This is a question researchers and scientists—as well as everyone involved in a general field of AI and to an extent, translation—must grapple with. The study does well to point us in a more positive direction towards a more equitable playing field for technology users of all backgrounds and origins. 


AI-based dubbing service Deepdub raises $20 million in funding

The latest news to stir up the language industry is Deepdub’s impressive $20 million Series A funding, led by New York-based global venture capital and private equity firm Insight Partners. They are joined by other investment firms, old and new, as well as private investors such as Emiliano Calemzuk (former President of Fox Television Studios), Kevin Reilly (former CCO of HBO Max), and Roi Tiger (VP of Engineering at Meta). Deepdub is an Israel-based company that provides novel dubbing services for content worldwide, powered by artificial intelligence technology. 

What sets Deepdub apart from other dubbing services is that they utilize AI technology to retain the voices of the original actors, allowing international viewers to watch “their favorite film and TV programs dubbed in native languages without losing any aspect of the original experience.” Combined with their localization efforts, Deepdub is taking AI to new heights with their ingenious idea to apply AI to voice acting, opening up opportunities for AI tech adoption in the realm of media content and entertainment.

But some raise the concern of safety and job security. As was the case with deepfakes, AI is again being utilized to manipulate human aspects. Artificial intelligence has the power to emulate the very real, very human lives of people, and there’s no telling what Deepdub’s aural manipulation can do. Furthermore, Deepdub’s development of voice manipulation technology could possibly put numerous voice actors out of jobs. However, there remains quite a bit of time before Deepdub can produce a functioning model capable of universal use; these are, however, issues to take note of as we gradually acclimatize to a more AI-friendly, AI-driven world. 


Viva Translate opens US translation job market to Latin American professionals

While not as impressive as Deepdub’s $20 million funding, Viva Translate’s $4 million funding does not betray Viva’s (perhaps more) noble and equally important mission of facilitating translation and business between Latin America and the US. With their patented Spanish-English machine translation (supposedly 10 times better than Google Translate), Viva Translate has built a streamlined process through which Latin American professionals can engage with US clients, opening up previously untapped job markets unfilled by American freelancers. 

Viva has come to the forefront of the language industry by making use out of the vacuum of workers in the US—due to the pandemic-induced event aptly named “the Great Resignation”—and allocating capable workers from Latin America to meet demands. The company was founded by a team of Stanford University researchers and utilizes novel functions such as real-time email translation and offer negotiation to aid freelancers in their journey to find work. More than 50,000 freelancers are now utilizing Viva Translate to communicate with clients abroad. 


Real-Time AI translation at the Beijing Olympics

While the pandemic has forced officials to set strict distancing measures in Beijing, Olympic athletes and coaches still had to communicate with local workers and vendors. Domestic translators, such as the iFlytek Jarvisen, have greatly facilitated translation and interpretation between Mandarin speakers and international visitors. The Jarvisen—a small yet formidable device solely for voice translation—translates between 60 languages and handles professional vocabulary in healthcare, IT, finance, legal, sports, and energy fields. 

Usage, it seems, was limited to restaurants, where mistranslations, however infrequent, did occur. German journalist Frank Schneider tells Reuters of an amusing incident where his pronunciation of “cow milk” was understood as “cough milk.” Another anecdote is of mushrooms translated as “fungus.” Such cases prove the fact that, no matter how capable and robust machine translation is, sometimes MT can’t handle basic nuances in normal registers. 


These are the latest news items in the language sector. What do these happenings tell us about the direction and growth of translation (machine and human) in the real world? For one, technological advancement always initiates adoption and implementation in the real-world setting. Despite imperfections and possibly critical mistranslations, MT is utilized in events such as the Olympics to aid in communication; after all, some level of translation, nuanced or not, is better than no translation at all. On the flip side, such implementation of novel technology also goes to prove that human translation is just as necessary and imperative as machine translation. Companies such as Deepdub and Viva Translate marry human resources with technology to provide the most satisfactory results. This narrow space—in which machines and humans intermingle and cooperate—is the most productive of innovation and meaning for years to come, it seems. 


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