Interview: Lionbridge and IBM seek to expand “real time” translation

As readers of this blog well know, I’ve been bullish on machine translation for quite some time. Way back in 2004, I wrote:

Note to translators: I’m not implying you’ll be out of business anytime soon. But I am saying that machine translation (MT) is going to find its niche and this niche will grow exponentially. There is simply not enough translators in the world to handle the content necessary in this increasingly global economy.

Enter Lionbridge and IBM.

In March, the two companies inked a multi-year partnership in which Lionbridge would have exclusive rights to market IBM’s Real Time Translation Service (RTTS) technology.

I recently asked Lionbridge COO Satish Maripuri about the deal.

Here is the interview:

Q: It appears that Lionbridge is trying to replace the legacy term “machine translation” with Real-Time Translation. Why do you think this new term is better?

Real-Time Translation is a more accurate term for the solution. We see machine translation as a technology that enables the solution.  Real time instantaneous translation is the solution. Also, within the localization industry, Machine Translation typically refers to using productivity tools to offset the cost and time associated with translation and usually ends with a heavy post edit (PE) to get the content to publication quality. That is different than instantaneous real time translation that delivers “good-enough” translation without post edit if a customer so desires.

Q: When you talk to companies about machine translation, what types of content are they most excited about leveraging through your MT engine?

The customer excitement is remarkable. This one announcement created more in-bound interest than any announcement in our history. Organizations are most excited about translating the enterprise content that they aren’t translating today due to cost and time associated with the traditional localization process. Examples include: user generated content, research  reports, eSupport, social media, knowledge bases, website content and real time instantaneous chat/email communication.

Q: We still live in a “cost per word” translation ecosystem. Do you see real-time translation as the beginning of the end of the per-word pricing model?

Details around the new pricing model will be forthcoming, but it will follow a SaaS model subscription fee and/or seat license for certain applications. This will be different than the traditional per-word pricing model.  Time will tell whether this will lead to a change in the way organizations view all translation pricing. But for real time translation technology, SaaS-based subscription pricing is clearly the right model.

Q: In my view, Google has done more than any language provider to demonstrate that machine translation has a valuable role to play in global communications. Is there any concern at Lionbridge, that Google might open up its MT engine to companies via its Apps platform?

Google’s automated translation tool is a highly visible application.  And you are right in that it creates awareness of the opportunity for automated translation. There are applications for Google’s technology, specifically in its ability to enhance search.  Our focus is on enterprise content – which is a different application for automated translation in that it requires higher levels of quality and utility within the enterprise.

For the last five years, Lionbridge has been using and continuously developing our translation management platform — Translation Workspace. This technology combined with IBM’s real-time translation technology will allow us to customize the engine to our customer-specific domains to provide levels of quality that far surpass any freeware translation technology. This customization combined with cloud availability through Translation Workspace differentiates our tool from freeware tools and creates a  highly valuable application for the enterprise.

Q: TAUS has been critical of the Lionbridge/IBM alliance as an attempt to “lock in” users via ownership of the translation resources. TAUS has called on Lionbridge to open up your data. What is Lionbridge’s response?

Customers who use Lionbridge’s real time translation technology are not locked in to Lionbridge for any service — post edit or other traditional managed service translation. We are only providing our customers with a technology application to support real-time multilingual communication.  As such, our customers would simply license the technology to support real time translation. If they choose to post edit the result, they can use any service provider they choose.

Q: What do you estimate will be the ratio of human translated content to machine translated content in a typical company — say from today to five years from now?

As machine translation improves over time we believe it will be used more frequently, especially on dynamic user-generated content. We also believe over the next ten years we are going to see a shift from “Just in Case Translation” — just in case someone happens to read to “Just in Time Translation” — translation after someone shows interest.

In addition, we believe that over the next five to ten years, there will be more acceptance in the market for “good-enough” translation. Therefore, it would not be unreasonable to see a larger percentages of enterprise content translated using machine translation or Real-Time Translation technology.

For more information:

Free webinar: Secrets of the Best Global Websites

I’m pleased to be speaking on a topic near and dear to my heart — the best practices of global websites.

Lionbridge is hosting the webinar and attendance is free.

The date and time is May 20th at 12:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time.

You can register online here.

And here is what you’ll get out of the call (if I do my job well):

In this comprehensive one-hour webcast, John will draw on findings from his 2010 Web Globalization Report Card and provide insights on the best global web sites, highlighting language trends, navigation tips and emerging trends. Websites profiled include Facebook, Apple, Starbucks, and more.

By attending this webinar, you will learn:

  • The hottest languages on the web today
  • Why Facebook was able to go from two to 70 languages in only two years
  • How companies such as Apple and Google benefit from global design consistency
  • How global communities can improve your localization efforts

And bring lots of questions! I hope you to see (hear) you there.