Technologies for Translation and Interpreting: Challenges and Latest Developments

12 November 2021

Speaker: Dr Celia Rico, Machine Translation Specialist

Title: Translation and machines: artefacts, instruments and the evolving role of the translator


The advent of neural machine translation has undoubtedly affected the translation industry, speeding up the digitalization process, taking translator productivity to new heights, and lowering production prices. One of the immediate consequences is the gradual depletion of the traditional role of translators, who see their work reduced to the revision of isolated segments produced by a machine. The risk of translation becoming a marginal activity is high (Pym 2014, 37) if the task is simplified in the mechanical substitution of words and phrases detached from the communicative context in which they originated. We can even think of the subrogation of the essential work of translators, who are forced to leave their main job in the hands of the computer.

This trend, which, on the other hand, is not alien to other production processes or services, can be explored in the light of a tension between “artefacts” versus “instruments” (Alonso and Calvo 2015): an artefact is an isolated object that performs a series of functions without having any relationship with its user, while the instrument is associated to the user as an essential part of a process. From this perspective, we can analyse both the technological object itself and the different ways in which users (or society, by extension) interact with it.

In this talk, I will use this framework to analyse the changes that the latest developments in machine translation have brought to the job profile and workflows of professional translators. My contention is that linear processes of translation that conceive machine translation as an artifact are obsolete, and that only by considering this technology as an instrument can translators remain in control of the process.


Celia Rico holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics, an MSc in Machine Translation and an MBA. With an extensive background in Translation Technologies research, Dr. Rico’s publications have concentrated on areas such as translation memory evaluation, machine translation, post-editing, and the impact of new technologies on the translation profession. Her major contributions to this field are to be found in different international publications. She is member of the Expert Committee “Post-editing of Machine Translation Output” at ISO TC37.