What Suddenly!? Google Translate Isn’t About to Replace Humans

Haaretz put the internet giant’s new neural-machine-translation service to the test – with mixed results.

Simon Spungin
Simon Spungin
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A translation from the Hebrew by Google's new neural machine translator and improvements in red by a Haaretz human translator, April 3, 2017.
A translation from the Hebrew by Google's new neural machine translator and improvements in red by a Haaretz human translator, April 3, 2017. Credit: Ohad Peer
Simon Spungin
Simon Spungin

Last month, Google made an announcement that sent shivers down the spines of people who make a living translating Hebrew into English.

After testing the technology on less challenging languages, the internet giant revealed that it would start using neural machine translators to render more natural results for its online translation service in two more tongues: Arabic and Hebrew.

Credit: Haaretz

As readers and employees of Haaretz are only too aware, translating Hebrew into English can be a perilous enterprise. The potential for mistakes is huge and, because of the relative paucity of the Hebrew vocabulary, there can be dozens of possible (and perfectly correct) translations of any given word – only one or two of which might be the word a native English speaker would choose.

If, as Google claims, its free online translation service can produce natural-sounding texts in English from Hebrew, many fine translators could find themselves out of a job.

To either set their minds at ease – or give them time to start looking for alternative employment – Haaretz has taken a short article that appeared on its Hebrew website and pushed it through Google’s translator.

The overall translation was adequate; some sentences were rendered in perfectly acceptable English, while other were so mangled they lost all sense of the original meaning.

The managing editor of Haaretz English Edition, Simon Spungin, improving a translation by Google's new neural machine translator, April 3, 2017. Credit: Ohad Peer

The bottom line is good news for translators: Google isn’t about to put you out of work. Its translation service may no longer be “on the face,” but it isn’t up to the standard one would expect from a living, breathing “son of Adam.”

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