Human translation: Man over machine

If you compare business in the modern world to industry just a few short decades ago, there is one defining feature that distinguishes between the two time periods.

Technology. Technology and fancy machines. Where a man may once have been required to carry out delicate tasks in every sector from pharmaceuticals to manufacturing, a robotic arm has swooped in and taken his place.

However, there are some tasks which, while a machine might have a good stab at taking the place of a person, quite simply cannot be carried out by an entirely automated system. Translation is one of them.

Multiple dimensions

For a start, written and spoken communication is far more complex than it may ostensibly appear to be. While words themselves are one thing, other factors such as intonation, body language and facial expressions need to be taken into account, none of which can be interpreted, processed and reconveyed to the same effect by a machine.

Of course, some of these do not apply when communication takes the written form. However, even on paper, there are so many different ways to say the same thing. But why can a computer not work out the best one?


Automated translation engines are extremely impressive. However, they can never replace a human being, due to one defining factor in the man versus machine debate – that is, initiative.

With the internet, machine translation engines present an extraordinary ability to scan examples of certain vocabulary and phrases across millions of web pages. They can then ascertain those that crop up more commonly and in which contexts, to work out the most suitable translation.

However, this is still based on an algorithm, a piece of computer code. No matter how fancy software developers may make it, a machine-based translation (not to be confused with a computer-assisted or computer-aided one) is still doing what a software developer told it to. It is not thinking for itself. How can it? It’s a machine, not an autonomous being.

Translation, by definition, requires a sense of initiative and a human ability to make decisions based on more than the contents of a dictionary or what has appeared online in the past. A translation produced by the best software in the world can only ever be considered a commendable draft at best, which may be enough for certain purposes, but it is far from an outright substitute.

This leads neatly onto another point, which is that, in the business world, there may be a need for different levels of translation depending on the time and resources a company has to throw at the project, something a machine cannot appreciate. This is why translation services such as this provider offer different packages depending on the task at hand.

Fundamentally human

There is no denying that machine translation has its advantages, such as sheer speed, reduced costs and the lack of effort required.

However, at the end of the day, communicating with another person and the ability to produce the written word is a fundamentally human action that is fluid and utterly subjective. You cannot replicate these qualities solely using a computer.

By all means, you can get the outline of a message across, but other valuable elements, such as nuance and context, can be completely lost on a computer, simply because it is not a person. It never can be and it never will.

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