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Will interpreters be replaced by technology?

Remote simultaneous interpreting a technical leap for the interpreter services industry. But it is not going to replace interpreters. Some innovations completely change the fundamentals of the way an activity is conducted. Take the many inventions that came out of the Industrial Revolution, for example. Machines were able to conduct work that had previously relied on manpower, at a fraction of the speed and cost - making whole professions redundant.

Evolution, not revolution

Remote Simultaneous Interpreting and video interpreting is an evolution of the systems that facilitate remote interpretation. We are convinced that Interpreters will not become obsolete with Remote Interpreting, nor will onsite interpreting disappear. However, there will be a gradual shift towards a wider adoption of remote simultaneous interpretation, 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 saves costs. Basic economics dictated that because the total costs of interpreting will decrease, demand will increase. Organisers of small events who could otherwise never afford interpreting will start using the service.

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 needed. But customers 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 see that a large majority of the participating academics and EU staff share our opinion that RSI will lead to more interpreting.

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 late interpreting technology pioneer Bill Woods gave the answer in 2011 at a panel discussion. At the GALA Conference in Amsterdam we discussed business opportunities with the President of DS-Interpretation, Naomi Bowman, the daughter of Bill. Watch the video below.

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