Will interpreters be replaced by technology?

Interview with Naomi Bowman at the GALA

The Luddites were a group of English textile workers and weavers in the 19th century who destroyed weaving machinery as a form of protest. The group was protesting the use of machinery in a "fraudulent and deceitful manner" to get around standard labour practices. The protest was futile and the new technology quickly introduced. Similar cases can be found throughout history, as a example when railways were built in the beginning of the 19th century, many coachmen lost their jobs or had to learn how to ride a locomotive. 

Technological progress happens constantly, usually to the benefit of society as a whole, but sometimes professions are completely changed or even abolished. Dostoevsky wrote how in the beginning of the 19th century, his farther advised him not to learn only one profession, wheelmaker, but for also a second, saber slipper, in order to be more flexible towards change. Both professions became obsolete and luckily Dostoevsky made a career as a writer.

Interpreters will NOT become obsolete with RSI, nor will onsite interpreting disappear. However, there will be a graduate shift towards more and more RSI, interpreters need to adapt to this new technology if they want to get interesting assignments.

Avoiding or limiting the need for booths and heavy audio equipment saves costs. Because the total costs of interpreting will decrease, demand will increase. Organisers of smaller event who could not afford interpreting will start using the service. However, interpreters will still be paid the same as seen in this chart:

There seems to be a certain consensus that RIS will lead to more interpreting. 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 realise that 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. 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 onMarch 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:

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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