Will interpreters be replaced by technology?
Interview with Naomi Bowman at the GALA
RSI is just another technological innovation and part of the constant technology progress which has been going on since our forefathers took a tool in their hands. It happens continuously and usually to the benefit of society as a whole, unfortunately sometimes professions become obsolete.
We are convinced that Interpreters will NOT become obsolete with RSI, nor will onsite interpreting disappear. However, there will be a graduate shift towards more and more RSI, and we will see interpreters embracing the new technology to diversify and remain up-to-speed in the race for interesting assignments.
Avoiding or limiting the need for booths and heavy audio equipment save costs. Because the total costs of interpreting will decrease, demand will increase. Organisers of smaller events who could otherwise never afford interpreting will start using the service. At the current stage of development of RSI some interpreters are still sceptical about the new tool: this is no surprise for the changes are radical both in terms of visibility, time lack and technology and furthermore there is a fear that payment will be reduced. To some extent payment is uniform globally, however a deeper analysis shows that there are different levels with large differences between different countries and different continents. So maybe prices will not… be….question is whether this will be the case. Interpreters are entitled to let their voices be heard on this issue, but history shows technological advances cannot be avoided – they may be slightly delayed, but not prevented from happening.
The English luddites destroyed weaving machinery as a form of protest in the 19th century and protested the use of machinery in a "fraudulent and deceitful manner" to get around standard labour practices. As we know the protest was futile and new technology was introduced. History cans show many similar examples: coachmen lost their jobs to the railroad, telephones made errand boys obsolete, Spotify and Netflix reduced/stopped the distribution of CDs and DVDs, and the list goes on.-
We, at Interprefy, believe that this will not be the case for a sophisticated service as interpreting. Interpreters will always be around and be needed, but they will want to use technology, because it is available, dependable and opens up the market.
In early April at the SCIC Conference in Brussels, a realtime survey was carried out among the participants. One of the questions was : Will RSI lead to more or less interpreting work? It was a great pleasure to seethat a large majority of the participating academics and EU staff share our opinion that RSI will lead to MORE interpreting. Lower overall costs generate higher demand. The conclusion is that there seems to be a consensus that RSI will lead to more interpreting.
Our claim is confirmed as seen in the chart:
Many interpreters fear SRI and see the technology as a threat to their profession. “Will interpreters be replaced by technology?” is a question often asked. The interpreting technology pioneer Bill Woods gave the answer in 2011 at a panel discussion. At the GALA Conference in Amsterdam on March 26 - 27 I discussed business opportunities with the President of DS-Interpretation, Naomi Bowman. I discovered that she is the daughter of Bill: Here is what he said: