Behind-the-scenes technology is not usually the sexy stuff that makes big headlines. Unless you are the IT guy in the back room, this kind of difficult-to-explain stuff is not the leading topic of discussion at your dinner party. Neural Machine Translation (NMT) is different. Few things on the horizon currently have as much importance or as much appeal. What it does behind the scenes changes the face of the whole economy.
In short, NMT is a deep learning technology that translates within context, not just one word at a time. Recent advancements have made this approach nearly fluent, making previous iterations of machine translation irrelevant overnight. The usual language translation heavyweights, Google and Systran, are pioneering this technology and making it available to different segments of the market.
So what does this have to do with business? In short, everything. Here are four ways NMT will impact the market.
1. Small businesses with global reach.
Small businesses are the driving force of the U.S. economy. According to the Small Business Administration, these companies employ 99.7 percent of America’s workforce. Their impact on the economy is far ranging, from innovative products to essential services. But they are also limited in reach, typically restricted by small operational budgets. That means they don’t frequently sell to international markets, and especially not to foreign language economies.
“After the internet arrived, we started hearing the term ‘global economy,’” says Denis Gachot, CEO at Systran. “It implies an ability to communicate, connect and transact with anyone in the world. But most don’t have that ability because, despite the internet removing geographic barriers, there is still very much a communication barrier in language.”
A large corporation can hire multilingual professionals to run remote offices and provide customer service in numerous languages. That is a luxury most small businesses cannot afford. NMT allows these businesses to immediately translate their web pages and online communications into more than 100 languages. “Neural Machine Translation is going to change the economy by giving more businesses a language capability they can use to communicate and understand in real time,” says Gachot.
That means that the shop owner in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, can market her products to people in Germany, Japan, Brazil and dozens of other countries
2. Automatic translation of thousands of documents.
But NMT is not just an opportunity for growth for small business. Larger corporations stand to benefit from the quick processing capabilities of NMT as well. Company documents can quickly be translated into multiple languages with reliable accuracy and precision.
Previously, that kind of work would have required a team of highly skilled linguists and would have taken weeks to translate the original and check the resulting copy. But NMT changes that. The open network set-up of NMT technology allows for “soft alignment,” which means the system can search for the context of phrases and sentences instead of translating word by word. The reliability of this kind of machine translation, and the speed in which it is accomplished, can dramatically change the way companies are able to operate and ultimately serve their clientele all over the world.
3. Radically changes specific industries.
A change in translation technology means a huge change in specific industries. For example, legal eDiscovery can be extremely complicated for legal teams trying to access emails, chats and online communications in other languages. Each communication has to be carefully assessed for meaning and intent within the context of colloquial uses of the language and varying forms of slang. This is a nightmarish recipe for anyone working on such a case.
NMT changes this by rapidly learning terminology nuances and then producing high-quality translations at a fraction of the time it takes a human team to do the same work.
By using our own brain as a model, this technology is able to apply human intuition at machine speed. “Techniques for understanding slang include custom dictionaries and custom translation engines,” Gachot explains. “These engines are trained from hundreds of thousands of pieces of human translated content and are able to mimic the fluidity of expressions found in those human translations, including when there is colloquialism involved. We also have custom dictionaries for Information Technology (IT), economics, tourism, dialog and so on.”
4. Opens up isolated areas to the global market.
With the expansion of small businesses in global trade and more accessibility to unique products from a greater range of places, previously unreachable geographical markets will open up.
Right now, many countries are left out of the global marketplace because small businesses have no way of marketing to them or handling transactions across language barriers. Consumers in emerging markets may be the first to see the impact, but more remote countries will feel the effects soon after. Online marketplaces like Etsy and Zazzle can make language translation automatic, allowing users to conduct business in their own language. This reduces the friction in global commerce and increases the opportunities that remote consumers have to products and services around the world.
Business owners in remote corners of the world will now have a grander stage for their products, larger companies will be able to better care for their clients, and service industries will evolve to meet the changing tides. That is a complex technology worth talking about at your dinner party