What Is AI Translation and How to Use It?

Anthony Enticknap
28 Dec 2023

8 min. read


Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to completely change translation services. But what is AI translation technology and how does it work?

As technology like ChatGPT has shown, AI can already generate human-sounding responses to questions and prompts. It can do everything from writing essays to composing poetry, and it’s only going to get better in the future.

By applying this same kind of technology to translation tools, businesses can quickly localize content, allowing them to expand into new markets more easily.

Pro tip: For the most accurate results, make sure AI translations are reviewed by human translators. The easiest way to do it is by using a professional translation management system like Centus. Learn more.

What Is AI Translation?

AI translation is the translation performed by artificial intelligence without human involvement. Unlike human translation, AI translation is done instantly regardless of the complexity of the source text. An AI translation tool that quickly gains traction among translation professionals and the general public alike is ChatGPT.

What is AI translation?

Here are three of the main points you should bear in mind when thinking about AI translation:

AI translation is a type of machine translation

AI translation uses algorithms and statistical models to translate text from one language to another, making it a type of machine translation.

AI translation constantly improves

Because AI translation uses artificial intelligence and neural machine translation, it has the power to refine its translation quality, based on patterns and feedback.

AI is the future of translation services

Thanks to their greater efficiency, cost effectiveness, and ability to learn, AI language tools are likely to dominate the translation services market.

Short History of AI Translation

The idea of machine translation isn’t new. Consider its short history below:

  • In 1933, Russian scholar Petr Petrovich Troyanskii patented an idea for a mechanical translating device.

  • In 1954, IBM and Georgetown University demonstrated a rudimentary machine translation technology, translating from between Russian and English based on a 250-word dictionary and six grammar rules.

  • In 1966, the US ALPAC committee shifted its focus from machine translation to dictionary development.

  • In the 1970s, the demand for low-cost translation spurred the development of rule-based machine translation

  • In the 1980s, the statistical-based and example-based machine translation was developed.

  • In the 1990s, speech recognition and speech translation systems emerged.

  • In the 2000s, further progress was made in statistical machine translation, spurring the progress of multi-lingual internet.

  • In the 2010s, neural machine translation emerged.

software development process

Since those early days of machine translation, the technology has continued to improve, with each generation building on the last.

In recent years, tools like Google Translate have helped to popularize machine translation, providing free, instant translation.

Artificial intelligence translation is the latest innovation in this field. And thanks to machine learning, it’s likely to demonstrate drastic and continuous improvements unseen before.

How Does AI Translation Work?

AI translation converts one language to a target language using complex deep learning algorithms and technology, including neural machine translation (NMT). This is the technology that Google Translate and tools like it are built on.

As the ‘neural’ part of its name suggests, NMT aims to replicate the processes that occur in biological neural networks, particularly the human brain.

AI translation

The idea behind AI translation is that it can form new connections and, therefore, learn. That means, like human beings, it should be able to improve itself over time. And it should be able to understand context better than other translation solutions, leading to more natural language processing.

What Are the Advantages of AI Translation?

These are the main advantages of artificial intelligence translation:

Speed of translation

As with other types of machine translation, AI translation is much, much faster than humans. Not only can it translate text faster, but it can also translate into multiple languages at the same time.

That means you can massively increase the amount of translation you’re able to do — perfect for multi-national product expansion.

multilanguage translation

Cost savings

Human translators provide translations at a higher cost, albeit of a higher quality. In contrast, machine translation solutions never get tired, never take time off, and never ask for a pay rise. AI’s unparalleled level of efficiency, combined with the higher output, can lead to significant savings.

The use of AI translation tools can decrease the workload and improve the efficiency of human translators, which could also result in savings.

Learning potential

AI translation isn’t a static technology. Due to its self-improvement ability, the more you use it, the better it gets.

Of course, humans can learn too, but AI also offers instant translations and the ability to translate documents in bulk.

What Are the Disadvantages of AI Translation?

Although machine learning is a powerful technology, AI translation tools can have a few downsides:

Lack of cultural awareness

As impressive as artificial intelligence is, we’re still in the early stages of AI translation. Although translation quality can be high, AI tools still can’t beat humans at cultural awareness.

cultural awareness

AI tools can struggle with local idioms, technical jargon, and cultural context, which can lead to translations that don’t sound natural or have unintended meanings. In the worst cases, AI may produce unintentionally funny or offensive results.

A tendency to write bland content

AI translation software does a pretty good job of imitating humans, but it still lacks the creative spark of a real person.

For many translation projects, that’s not a problem, especially if the text is straightforward or formal. But if you want to keep the personality of your source material in your target language, humans still have the edge.

Disconnection from the real world

Currently, AI translation solutions still work in an isolated way. They may be able to search vast digital sources of information, including the web, but they can’t do anything in the real world.

translation process

For example, AI translation software can’t pick up the phone to double-check facts or conduct additional research. And because artificial intelligence has no instincts, it may draw on inaccurate information and produce untruthful results.

How Is AI Translation Different from Other Types of Machine Translation?

There are several types of machine translation. What makes AI and neural machine translation (NMT) different from other technologies?

The most basic system is rule-based machine translation (RBMT), which uses linguistic rules to translate foreign languages. This may be fine for basic translations, but it’s inefficient, requiring a lot of human input. Even then, it can produce unnatural-sounding translations.

Statistical machine translation (SMT), meanwhile, relies on statistical models derived from existing translations. By recognizing patterns and probabilities, SMT can produce more natural translations. However, it still struggles with idioms and ambiguous language.

NMT-based solutions differ thanks to their ability to learn from each task they complete. As well as offering greater speed and efficiency, these tools don’t require as much human supervision as other technologies.

Typical AI Translation Use Cases

Artificial intelligence translation is certainly impressive, but how can you actually use it in your business? Here are a few typical tasks it can help with.

Website text

If you want your company to have an international presence, you should localize your website. Your site is your virtual shop front, and it’s often the first interaction customers will have with your brand. In fact, 76% of consumers will look at a business’s online presence before visiting its premise.

smartphone with a translation app

It’s vital your website makes an immediate positive impact, and it can only do that if you get the translation right. Thankfully, by using AI, you can localize your site easily and without blowing your budget.

Marketing and information sources

With AI on your side, you can reach whole new audiences throughout the world. Grow your brand with international marketing campaigns. Or support foreign customers with localized technical manuals and catalogs.

Customer communication

Whether your international customers contact you through a chatbot on your website or one of your human support agents, AI translation can make the process much easier for everyone.

Machine translation can also help you pen customer emails, so you can keep your international audience informed at all times.

Internal communication

Artificial intelligence translation can also help your teams communicate with foreign colleagues, leading to greater efficiency and fewer misunderstandings. This can be particularly useful in the early stages of international expansion, whether you’re hiring new people or acquiring a foreign team.

Should You Use AI Translation?

If you’re thinking of expanding your business or brand into new countries, you’re going to need some kind of translation assistance. Once you’ve made the decision to localize your content, you have to consider human translation vs machine translation. In many cases, the best approach is a mix of human translators and AI translators.

Machine learning makes AI translation an exciting prospect for any business. It offers speed, efficiency, and increasingly high quality, making the translation process simpler.

So if you have any kind of international aspirations, AI translators should be a key part of your ongoing strategy.

What’s the Future of AI Translation?

Current AI translation technologies are already impressive, but what lies ahead for these neural learning systems?

the future of AI translation

In the short- to medium-term future, businesses will continue to use human translators alongside translation software. In some instances, AI technology will be used by itself. In other cases, businesses will use machine learning systems to complement and speed up the translation process.

As machine learning and AI translation assistance improve, the role of humans could change. Instead of doing the bulk of language translation, professional translators may be responsible for quality control tasks, checking computer translations make sense or adding more creativity to AI-generated output. Whatever happens, the AI genie is very much out of the bottle, and we expect AI technology and human translation and language services to continue to co-exist.

We obviously can’t say for certain how things will turn out, but the benefits of this technology are already clear and already available, so there’s no better time than now to take the leap.

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