• Loie Favre

Amazon Echo’s new Alexa Live Translation feature: friend or foe to translators?

In recent news, Amazon has just announced that Alexa in Amazon Echo will get a Live Translation feature to simultaneously translate and interpret conversations (starting in the US). Is this a friend or foe to translation and interpreters everywhere?

Amazon Echo Device
Amazon Echo Live Translation is now launching in the US. in multiple languages. Are translators concerned?

Advancements in technology are always looked at with disdain from the group of people who it is trying to replace, which is a natural reaction and should not come as a surprise. Machines are increasingly replacing humans in factories, content is being created by AI, and machine translation is spewing out heaps for translated texts at the blink of an eye. But with all this advancement, especially in the translation and interpretation world, why do we language professionals still have jobs?

The answer is simple: the produced results are still not perfect. Though machine-assisted language services have greatly improved over time, they still need a human hand for quality assurance and the correctness of context. Imagine a machine translation algorithm would be allowed to translate legal documents for a government, or Amazon Echo would interpret an important business meeting between two company heads. It’s still unheard of that machines and artificial intelligence would be trusted with important tasks all on their own.

That being said, there are a lot of cases where these tools are very useful, one of them being for the general public in the non-professional realm. Whether traveling, casually talking to someone overseas, taking a course, or reading a blog article, people generally can’t go spending money on each little thing professionally translated. That’s why it really comes in handy for the masses.

So, with the Amazon Echo Live Translation service, I can see this helping people privately, and even communication within company teams on a low priority level. However, when it comes to negotiating million-dollar contracts or medical reports on the Pfizer COVID-19, then companies, governments, and professional organizations had better not give up on humans just yet, unless they want to risk losing face with some freak communication faux-pas.

Amazon Echo Live Translation is offered in the following language combinations: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, or Hindi. It uses a neural machine translation system, and they say they are working on improving quality, context, and colloquialisms.

What is your take on this technology? Do you think Amazon Echo's Live Translation will actually be of use?

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