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The rise of the machines

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Cisco estimates that global cloud traffic will grow 45% annually until 2016, with translation services growing at around 15% to 20% per year. This means that many new machine translators must enter the industry each year to handle the content, says IAN HENDERSON, CTO of translation and localisation company, Rubric.

According to Ray Kurzweil, a futurist known for his predictions about artificial intelligence, machines will match human intelligence and perform feats including human-quality translations by 2029. Current happenings also suggest a strong role for non-human translation, with machine translation (MT) advancing rapidly of late. Three simultaneous-translation devices have been announced since June 2012, including one by Microsoft that renders live audio translations from the spoken word, in the tones and inflexions of the speaker. Perfect is hard But perfecting a translation machine remains one of the toughest challenges in artificial intelligence. For decades, computer scientists tried using a rules-based approach ‚Äî teaching machine translation systems the linguistic rules of two languages and giving it the necessary dictionaries. Then researchers at companies like Google began to favour a statistical approach. By feeding the computer thousands or millions of passages and their human-generated translations, it could make accurate guesses about translating new texts. Google has been reported as saying it doesn’t want to replace human translation, but merely aid in broadening access to the vast volumes of information on the Internet. But even if Google wanted to take over the world, it would be hard. Machine translation tools simply cannot take into account the purpose, real-world context or style of any utterance. Humans need machines Machine translation (MT) not to be confused with computer-aided (human) translation (CAT) involves the use of software to translate text or speech from one natural language to another. It is particularly effective in contexts where standard or formulaic language is used, such as legal or government documents. Machines need humans MT is perceived to be highly efficient at translating high volumes, but anybody who works in machine translation will appreciate the difficulty of separating the human element out of the process. In many cases, human intervention is needed to edit the source text before, and the translation after, the translation process. Humans are also needed to train the computer to deal with a specific topic and terminology. For this to be cost-effective, a very large volume of words must be processed by the system. Recognising this, some companies use MT initially, and then employ human editors to iron out problems, perceiving this to be a smart and fast way of combining man and machine. The best of both worlds A third alternative, computer-aided translation, combines the best of both worlds. CAT technology leverages the speed of machines as well as the human knack for understanding context and nuance, to deliver large-scale translation project outcomes that compare favourably with the best human translators at a speed that holds its own with machine translation services like Google. CAT tools and techniques acknowledge the mutual reliance of machines and humans, and build a high degree of integration into the process to deliver high-quality translation at scale, quickly and with fewer resources than human translation. When to use MT, CAT or human translation That being said, there are instances in which sacrificing accuracy in favour of speed or vice versa is entirely adequate. The following scenarios can help with deciding between MT, human translation, combined efforts or CAT.

· A consumer trying to find a product on a Chinese site MT. Accuracy is not likely to be in question with the use of commodity product names.

· Getting an email in the wrong language MT. Subsequent communications will settle whatever ambiguity there may be.

· A copywriter seeking an understanding of research data MT followed by human translation to speed up the ramping-up process and refine the report with 100% accuracy.

· A technology company seeking a website translation (e.g. a search engine) CAT. CAT tools aid in retention of the translation memory of companies. Consider also the cultural sensitivities around certain brand names.

¬∑ House style depending on volumes, CAT. Most companies prefer certain tonalities over others and have certain linguistic conventions or preferred nomenclature. Machines can’t help.

¬∑ Context depending on volumes, CAT. When you’re talking about ‚’step’, MT may have difficulty deciding whether it means ‚”step along the way‚”, ‚”rung in a step ladder‚” or ‚”dance type‚”.

· Recurring translation work with incremental updates CAT. Even a high volume of work should be done by humans upfront, where accuracy is important. The benefit of this becomes clear later, when updates to the text are simply translated as integral to the stored translation in a CAT database.

· One-off small documents human. The overhead cost in setting up CAT or MT is unlikely to be recouped when dealing with one-off small document translations.

Be guided by circumstances Circumstances will dictate which form of translation is best for you. Companies that let their translation efforts be guided by their situation will make the best use of their resources and manage risk better.

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Telcos want one face

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The investments that telecommunications service providers are making in reshaping their online properties into customer-centric portals reflects the growing maturity of self-service and Internet uptake in the industry, says KEVIN MELTZER of Consology.

Many telcos around the world are overhauling their websites to offer customers more holistic portals that give them a single point of entry into the organisation.

They are doing so because they recognise that service will be a key point of differentiation for their businesses in a market that is becoming increasingly competitive. They have also realised that they have a major opportunity to shift customers away from expensive contact centres towards low-cost electronic channels.

In the past, most telecommunications operators ran multiple sites across multiple domains and subdomains. These web-based properties were built around the way that telcos structured their own businesses rather than around the needs of the customer. But we are now seeing the leading operators take a more user-centric approach to the way that they design their web and mobile sites.

This coincides with a change in the industry from slicing customers into numerous segments and then serving them across a range of functional and product areas. For example, many operators split customers into prepaid and postpaid segments or voice and data users, distinctions that are becoming less meaningful in a world of technology convergence. They now want to present a single face to the customer rather than servicing the subscriber through silos.

These changes are starting to percolate through to operators’ customer service and sales strategies. Telcos are starting to pull together disparate products and services that once resided across multiple sites into customer service portals.

These sites put a wide range of information at the subscriber’s fingertips, he adds. Increasingly, for example, subscribers can log directly into their accounts from the operator’s homepage and then access a wealth of services and information. This marks an evolution from the fractured and inconsistent customer experience of the past.

Leading operators are even thinking about how their Self-Service platforms should be integrated with social media strategies to allow customers to pay their electronic bills or top up airtime with a single click from within a social network.

Whereas Self-Service portals on telco sites were once purely about account management functions, they increasingly offer far richer functionality. In addition to allowing subscribers to pay their bills and check their account information, they are also increasingly becoming the first stop for service and commerce.

Operators have started to recognise that splintering their e-commerce, service and account management functions simply makes no sense. Customers want to be able to do everything through one interface rather than needing to visit two or three Web sites, or eventually possibly needing to phone a call centre or visit a store for certain transactions.

Integrated and easy to use online customer service channels will be central for telco operators who want to be competitive in the markets of tomorrow. They form an advantage in an industry where it will be customer relationships rather than cost or service that drive loyalty and purchasing decisions.

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Talk for less with MWEB Talk

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Today, MWEB announced its consumer VoIP package called MWEB Talk, which allows users to make free network calls and get discounted rates made to landlines and mobile phones.

MWEB, today launched its new Voice over IP (VoIP) offering to South African consumers. The service, MWEB Talk, will offer users’ free on network calls to fellow MWEB Talk users’ and cheap calls to landline and mobile phone numbers. This follows the success and demand of the ISP’s existing VoIP products in recent months.

‚”We have seen a noticeable transformation in users’ Internet behaviour with consumers wanting services that complement their ADSL connectivity solution. We have seen phenomenal growth and by the end of the year will deliver over 100 million minutes on our VoIP platform,‚” says Carolyn Holgate, General Manager of MWEB Connect, the ISP’s Consumer and Small Office/ Home Office Division.

MWEB has made significant investments in its infrastructure and VoIP has been prioritised on its network to ensure performance and stability of the MWEB Talk service for both businesses and consumers.

‚”In addition to the high quality of the service, MWEB Talk is also simple to set-up and users’ should experience a significant reduction in their telephone bills. By implementing a VoIP service consumers and small businesses can cut their monthly telecommunication bills by up to 55% to landline and mobile numbers,‚” says Holgate.

With no subscription fee, existing MWEB customers can log into their MWEB account, register for the service and download the application for PC and Mac as well as mobile applications that turn an iPhone, Android, and Nokia smartphone into a VoIP phone. Customers will also be able to purchase a Desktop VoIP Handset for R99 which will be HD voice ready and will support multi-extensions.

‚”We believe that VoIP is the future of telephony in South Africa and we are extremely excited to see the consumer market shift into the VoIP space,‚” concludes Holgate.

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