JONATHAN DOWNIE

Can Interpreters Survive in an MT world?

Hardly a month goes by without another big tech company releasing a gadget that claims to allow effortless spoken communication in multiple languages. From giant corporations like Google to new start-ups like Waverly Labs, it seems that everyone is trying to make interpreters obsolete. So where does this leave us humans? Should we be looking for new jobs?

Nearer to home, growth in video remote interpreting has led some experts to argue that in the future, interpreters will never leave the house. Even if we don’t lose our jobs to machines, might the machines that we use change when and where we work and our relationships with our clients?

This presentation will take interpreters through four possibilities for the future of their profession. Perhaps machines will take over interpreting. If so, how do we prepare for that? Alternatively, interpreters may rely on legal protection to survive. But is campaigning for that a good use of our time and energy? A third possibility is that human interpreters might be restricted to niches. Where would such niches appear and would they be rewarding for anyone involved? One final possibility is that human professional interpreting could become the recognised gold standard.

Recent research on client expectations of interpreters and high-profile cases where clients have looked to replace interpreters with machines suggest that the decisions interpreters take now will determine the future they get. Thriving in a high-tech future will require us to become experts in delivering the kind of interpreting clients need in the way they need it, while increasing public appreciation of the profession through targeted PR and savvy marketing.

Getting there won’t be easy. To help us on our way, after navigating the possibilities, this presentation will end with a short, interactive exercise to help interpreters plan their next steps.

Jonathan is a consultant interpreter, conference interpreter (French<>English), researcher and writer on interpreting. He is passionate about linking research and practice in interpreting, delivering interpreting that makes a positive difference to clients and setting interpreting up for a bright future.

His first book, Being a Successful Interpreter: Adding Value and Delivering Excellence was published by Routledge in 2016. He also co-hosts the popular Troublesome Terps podcast, which aims to cover those topics that keep interpreters up at night. He lives in Edinburgh with his wife and four children.

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