Sat.
Jan 16
2021
Fast in Translation: Yandex AI Translates 352-pg Book in 40 Seconds

Image: Romain Vignes via Unsplash

As artificial intelligence (AI) grows more sophisticated, the discussion is heating up around what this means for the future of humans and work. According to the Brookings Institution, engineers, photographers, and optometrists are just a few of the occupations vulnerable to replacement by AI systems. Now, translators might just have a little something to keep them on their toes, too.

This week Yandex, Russia’s biggest search engine, proudly endorsed a Russian copy of Daniel Susskind’s book, “A World Without Work: Technology, Automation, and How We Should Respond.” The text, which will be available in print from Individuum Publishers this December and is already available online for Bookmate subscribers, sees the Oxford University economist reflect on progress in AI and the increasing automation of work once performed by humans. In the book, Susskind comes to dispel some misconceptions about robots replacing humans, too. So why the big fuss? Well, Yandex.Translate – powered by AI, of course – translated all 352 pages of that book from English to Russian in a mere 40 seconds.

Yandex.Translate, one of the many offerings in the Russian giant’s product ecosystem, used a proprietary algorithm to produce the sub-minute translation of the piece, already one of the most talked-about books this year. Now the first to be translated into Russian by AI, “A World Without Work” will surely remain a popular topic of conversation.

It’s not all bad news for translators though. The translation still required touching up, admitted Felix Sandalov, Editor-in-Chief at Individuum Publishers:

“The automation of such a complex and knowledge-intensive activity may worry us, but we also feel optimistic about it. We believe that the algorithm is not the enemy of the human translator, but an assistant. After all, this translation still needed editing.”

Anton Dvorkovich, Deputy Head of Yandex’s Machine Translation Department called the process “a very serious test of the quality of [Yandex’s] translation software.”

But, of course, the project’s ramifications travel much further than the walls of Yandex HQ. The translation services market was valued at $39.61 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach $46.21 billion by 2027. While the growing industry may be some way from producing a machine translator that can rival a human professional, Yandex’s achievement is both an exciting glimpse into the future of AI and a reminder of the challenges automation may pose to the future of work.

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