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.

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

  1. John, I really do not see what is new about the Lionbridge/ IBM announcement from a technology point of view. Post edited translation has been the talk of the industry for some time – look at all the references to it in some of the excellent Linked in Groups – and a number of companies have already integrated MT systems with their translation management systems. SDL for one, (see Mark Lancaster’s blog); Globalsight with Microsoft and ProMT are another example; My own company Translution ( are also about to announce a new translation management system which incorporates MT from the ground up and will use output from Systran and another notable MT provider.

    What is absolutely clear to me is that post edited translation will become mainstream and acceptable over the next few years.

    However there needs to be a warning to users – if the suggested translations delivered to the translators edirting screen by MT are to be acceptable to translators, the MT engine must first be customized for the customer. “Gist” MT – no matter which MT engine is used – (i.e. without any customization or training) will simply not deliver the quality to translators. Customers will therefore not see the main benefits of post edited translation – cost savings and quicker delivery – if “gist” MT is used.

    By the way, both Satish Maripuri and Mark Lancaster did not discuss the costs of customisation, although Mark Lancaster did imply that this difficult and expensive. Not so . For instance, Jeff Allen has been post editing individual documents in Systran for many years (he builds a qucik dictionary and then re-translates the document) and at Translution we can customize an MT engine to be used by the whole organisation at low cost. Training an MT engine so that it can by used by an SME for post editing is very affordable today and is not just something large companies can take advantage of.

    In summary, I realise that both Lionbridge and IBM are big companies but I still cannot see what all the fuss is about – unless the announcement is an acknowledgement that post edited translation will now rapidly become a reality.

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