Prof. Dorothy Kenny
Dublin City University
Prof. Dorothy Kenny (Dublin City University)
Translating machines: implications for translation theory and practice
Contemporary discourse about the future of work is preoccupied with the potential impact of AI on a whole range of professions, the practitioners of which could either see their labour “augmented” or “displaced” by technologies such as large language models (LLMs). For translators, who are no strangers to such predictions, there is an inescapable feeling of déjà vu. But alongside an understandable scepticism in some quarters, there is also the comfort of knowing that we have been here before. The conceptual models we built of other applications of deep learning, especially neural machine translation, can be transferred to LLMs; the ways in which we could usefully intervene in machine translation workflows provide us with prototypes for our practical engagement with LLMs; and the environmental, ethical and economic challenges such engagement presupposes have been well rehearsed in our field. Translation practice, in many cases, is ahead of the posse.
Translation theory, meanwhile, has been expanding to integrate what may well be society’s paradigm of translation, namely machine translation. This is happening against a backdrop of an already increasingly expansive understanding of translational phenomena, which are seen as extending beyond the interlingual, beyond the professional, and even beyond the human. At the same time, machine translation research is integrating ideas from ‘traditional’ translation studies, some of which may reflect a simpler, more reductive approach to translation than would be promulgated today.
In this lecture I attempt to chart a course through this changing landscape, homing in on the rise of AI and its implications for both translation theory and practice.
Dorothy Kenny is full professor of translation studies at Dublin City University. Her current research interests include corpus-based analyses of translation and translator style, literary applications of machine translation and approaches to the teaching of translation technology. Her most recent book is the open-access edited volume Machine translation for everyone: empowering users in the age of artificial intelligence (Language Science Press, 2022). She is co-editor of the journal Translation Spaces.