For the first time in history, on December 22, 2015, an orbital carrier returned from space to square one, marking the first successful recovery of a rocket that launched a payload to orbit. It was Falcon 9, a two-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle, which vertically landed back undamaged at SpaceX Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral after reaching a speed of 5,900 km/h (3,666 mph) and an altitude of 200 km (125 miles).

After the first online payments system, the first fully electric sports car, and the first solar company, Elon Musk is destined to succeed also in open-source friendly AI.

gnôthi sautón - know thyselfMaybe Elon Musk is just another MDT-48 addict. Or maybe, Γνῶθι σεαυτόν, nosce te ipsum, or know thyself means just nothing to him. Or, again, maybe he has really worked to grasp its meaning.

Innovators are not intimidated by their limits. They are aware of them but their limits cannot stop them in their pursuits.

This is why real innovators are generally disruptors. They dare and are not afraid of failing nor they keep into account the opinions of others.

The translation industry, in its human, technological, and process components, is in dire need for innovation. And yet, 2015 ended without any major shock and most of those who love to venture into the chancy pastime of predicting the future seemingly glimpse no special news to come; consolidation, voice content, Big Data and IoT recur everywhere on the websites of major players and pundits. And since memory is in short supply even at the time of the Internet, the risk of a miserable figure is fairly remote.

On the other hand, it will come as no surprise to hear again the mouse that roared to machine translation and post-editing and, obviously, the bad guys at intermediaries and translation technology companies. Just like in 1969, 1981, 1998, and so on. By the way, in 1991, during the Gulf War, I myself was discussing machine translation and post-editing for a major Italian news magazine.

So, to anticipate a foreseeable future, you just can adorn the present.

Truth is that, like it or not, translation is no special business. Anyone can start his own business without necessarily having to know nothing. As a matter of fact, it is not different from any other business, when seen in a purely entrepreneurial perspective. An entrepreneur does not need to know anything about the business he is about to start. It is all about money. And possibly technology: any flavor of technology could convince any potential customer that that is the right provider of choice.

The only industry where most players are stubbornly persuaded that a specific knowledge is needed is the translation industry. This could possibly be true if you want to start working as a translator. It is definitely wrong if you want to start a translation business. Indeed, the largest and most successful translation companies are now run by people who do not necessarily know anything about translation or languages, but can talk money, the common language in business. If you’d happen to attend an industry event Needs-satisfaction curvefeaturing a C-level manager from one of these companies, you’d be surprised by the platitudes and possibly the inanities you could hear. At least, of course, in a translator’s perspective.

The problem with the translation industry is its business model, so, in a Schumpeterian vision, a real innovation should first be a process innovation. This could in turn be ‘disruptive.’ In Clayton Christensen’s view, any disruptive innovation cannot be but technological, while Don Norman’s reflections deserve special consideration in respect to translation.

As a matter of fact, technology has been disrupting every business model, however long established, and replace old jobs with new ones for centuries.

Canestra di frutta (Caravaggio)Unfortunately, the translation industry resembles a still life painting, with every part of it seemingly immutable. This is why, more than elsewhere, outliers are the only game changers, the real innovators; they’ve never been playing that game before, they’ve possibly been observers, or gamblers, or anything else but actors.

The humans who have survived any disruptive innovation have always embraced the innovation and been capable of renewing, broadening their skills and knowledge to surf the waves, not oppose them.

The thing is that this is another element in the still life painting portraying the translation industry: It is always the same old story (like this, in Italian) and we’ve been telling it for ever. And it is getting more and more boring every time.

An example? Quality, the costly and inefficient inspection-based error-counting approach and the related red-pen syndrome. Incidentally, have you had the chance of reading the latest issue (No. 13) of Revista Tradumatica? Probably you will see the point…

Most likely, 2016 will see the same trends as the past year. The question is whether — and possibly how much — they will affect the translation industry.

New digital payment platforms and options together with location-based services will establish a new layer of customized consumer targeting, which can further open space to disintermediation for the ensuing cut to exchange charges. Why? Because banks will collect, analyze, and profit from big data coming from the uprising global exchanges for real-time business insights, and this will increasingly be the true value of digital transactions.

Why should this be real? Just think of the big US translation company that still pays its bills with checks even to vendors abroad…

Machine translation? Post-editing? Quality? Rates? Errors? In 2016, translation will be more and more a data job, with analytics being the key to success.


Autore: Luigi Muzii

Luigi Muzii