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Why the cloud changes everything

Ten years since the global credit crisis, the world has changed immeasurably. And perhaps in no other area is this change as evident as in technology. As the global economy slipped into the most profound recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, century-old financial intuitions and industrial hegemons that harvested immeasurable power and wealth were lost into a seemingly bottomless credit sinkhole.

But as the dust settled, a new breed of enterprise emerged to challenge the old elite. These new companies sought to upend traditional business models and defy long-held assumptions about doing business. And while these emergent and disruptive companies varied in their approaches and spanned a wide range of industries, they all shared a secret weapon that would assure their rapid ascent to become global technology hegemons: cloud computing.

The likes of Uber, AirBnb and Alibaba upturned traditional business models, replacing them with cloud-enabled marketplaces. The proliferation of smartphones meant consumers could suddenly access a vast range of services at the touch of a pocket-sized screen. Meanwhile, enterprises and individuals offering their goods and services through these online exchanges were no longer confined to their locality. Instead, they had access to a global marketplace, making their offering scalable in a way that was previously unimaginable.

What has any of this got to do with the translation and interpreting industry? Had you asked that question five years ago, the answer would have been, well, not much. But having started within the most active consumer industries, the post-recession wave of digital disruption is reaching this specialist and intricate industry.

When it comes to interpreting and technology, conversations tend to focus on whether solutions driven by artificial intelligence could one day replace humans. This is a tiresome and careworn discussion which I won’t go into here. But what is less often discussed is the role cloud computing has to play to bring interpreting into the digital age by enhancing the end user experience while opening new opportunities for interpreters.

Remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) is not a new concept. Several enterprises endeavored to introduce platforms in the early 2000s. However, slow internet connections made it an unreliable, slow and frustrating experience. Furthermore, the user experience of these platforms was poorly conceived, and interpreters quickly became disillusioned with the concept. These companies rapidly vanished. But as Henry Ford put it, ‘failure is the opportunity to begin more intelligently.’ And since those early days, internet speeds have increased vastly, and cloud computing has facilitated RSI providers to offer a range of useful tools to make interprets more comfortable, not least high-resolution video streams of the event itself, in real-time.

What makes RSI so attractive to interpreters is they can work anywhere in the world without having to be onsite. No longer are they required to travel to remote venues on unpaid time. Instead, they can spend their time more efficiently while creating a higher stream of income, as they’re compensated for every hour of work they complete. Because RSI removed the need for organizations to spend time and money on hotels, visas, booths and AV equipment, the reduced cost opens up interpreting to a whole new market segment, meaning more work for interpreters. Fundamental principles of economics dictate that lower prices lead to higher demand.

All successful industry cloud companies hold the same belief that the customer is best served through harnessing technology. This unparalleled customer intimacy has permeated most industries with phenomenal results by breaking down physical and virtual barriers. Technological leaps have meant robots are picking goods of warehouse shelves, and autonomous vehicles will soon be hitting our roads. This is not the case in our industry. It is unlikely that technology could rival a human interpreter anytime in the near future.  But as the RSI pioneer Bill Woods said in the 1980s, ‘interpreters will not be replaced by technology, but by interpreters using technology.’

Kim Ludvigsen

With an engineering and business degree, I have worked in the financial industry and with start-ups for over 25 years. However, I have always had a keen interest in languages. My mother tongue Danish is only spoken by 5 million people, so when I after high school moved to Switzerland, I had to expand my language command. I discovered that with a positive attitude and a bit of effort, I could learn a new language in two months and today I speak seven actively.

While working for Swiss Post 2004-2010, I sometimes used interpreting and I was very surprised how old-fashioned the underlying technology was. A few years later I met with my old colleague Peter Frei, and together we picked up the idea of developing a remote interpreting platform, using browser-based software and mobile apps. A team of competent language and software specialist was quickly assembled, and by the end of 2014, a prototype developed and Interprefy incorporated.

I quickly discovered that the technology we started developing turned out to be quite controversial, or to use a modern Venture Capital expression "disruptive", meaning that is has the potential to radically transform an entire industry.

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