Up to this point, machine translation (MT) has been improving constantly. As a result of the work, the MT quality is getting better all the time. Ten years ago almost everyone could have said whether the translation was made by a machine or not. Today, between certain languages, simple texts translate so well automatically that it can be nearly impossible to say who made the translation.
To some extent, MT has reached or even exceeded the quality level that can be produced by someone who has studied the language as a hobby. (MT won’t ever be as good as fluent language speakers or translation professionals.) Because the quality is not people have started to use MT more actively. The usage is already so huge that it affects the quality. Whether the effect will be good or bad in the long run is unclear though. Let’s examine the options a little bit closer.
Will MT quality become better?
The more there are users the more attention is given to the development of machine translation. Like in many other industries, high demand guides the use of resources also in the language technology industry. The development of MT is never an easy task but hard work brings results. There is surprisingly lot of manual adjusting, testing and analyzing work needed. When there’s a large demand for free MT there probably is some people who would be ready to pay for it. This brings new suppliers to the market and some of them could invent a breakthrough that lifts the current MT technologies to the next level.
User feedback is one of the important sources for better MT quality. In addition to the economical resources, wide use of MT means that there will be users who want to contribute even for free. People are often willing to evaluate the quality and to tell how the translation should be in order to be correct, as long as they will benefit from it with an improving quality. This kind of voluntary work can have a huge role in the MT quality when it is integrated to the development processes.
Will MT quality become worse?
The wide use of MT leads to the situation where people will both translate a lot of material automatically and use the automatic translations actively in many places. Although it isn’t recommended, people will also publish automatic translations online without any proofreading. All types of translations are mixed in the Internet and more are published all the time.
When free machine translators use Internet content as their source matarial or corpus, it is possible that these unproven translations will end up back in the corpus. Everyone can imagine what happens when the corpus contains material that hasn’t been proofed or edited at all. The threat is known though and the developers are probably doing their best to avoid this from happening but it is uncertain whether it is possible to block bad material from the system completely.
Still the quality of free MT seems to be improving but the future is unknown. Which do you think is the more likely outcome?