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AI: friend or foe of literary translators ?

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This is another area that artificial intelligence is shaking up, and not necessarily in a good way. If in biology, his contributions are welcome, his arrival in the publishing sector is cause for concern for some. Particularly on the side of translators, who find themselves on the front line facing a new kind of enemy. The arrival on the market of powerful machine translation tools powered by AI like DeepL Translate or Microsoft Translator was a real kick in the anthill. Translators, once true craftsmen of the word, gradually find themselves confined to simply refining the translations already destroyed by AI models.

A deterioration of working conditions

By resorting more and more often to AI to translate works, the The result was not long in coming: we are currently witnessing a precariousness of the profession of translator. Already previously considered the poor relation of the edition, the situation does not seem likely to improve.

Jörn Cambreleng, director of the Atlas association (Association for the Promotion of Literary Translation), denounces a common practice among publishers, which he readily describes as « shameful ”. Indeed, some of the latter do not hesitate to hide the use of AI in the translation of a book, and do not explicitly show it on the cover.

A study carried out by the Association of Literary Translators of France (ATLF) also reveals a rather worrying fact: 68% of post-publishing translators are paid in below average rates. In addition, 50% of the translators surveyed felt that their post-editing work was more time-consuming and required “more time than for a traditional translation”. A longer, less well-paid job ? The dream !

For Peggy Rolland, secretary of the ATLF, the advent of AI is first and foremost a synonym of concern, particularly in legal matters. She explains: “ Translators are authors and must receive royalties on the sale of each book (between 1 % and 2 % , in general). However, publishers who use AI want to pay us as self-employed, which is not legal.” A sheet of fog falling on the statutes which is obviously not in favor of small workers.

The plea for humanity

The collective In the flesh in bone launched a petition in September 2023, aiming to express their opposition to the “ translations without soul» generated by artificial intelligence. At the time of writing this article, it has been signed by 5,209 people. This one is rather clear in what it expresses, and it is even written in bold on the page: “ We do not want that AI becomes a possible alternative to human creation”.

The collective's manifesto directly addresses publishers and all other stakeholders who may use translators not to use AI as as ;#8217;absolute replacement tool. Another request: if artificial intelligence is used in the production of a work, this must be reported to the consumer. This is reminiscent of the creation of Librinova's anti-AI label.

The challenges of transparency and training

For its part, the National Publishing Union has not yet firmly declared itself in favor of the establishment of a label which would signal the use of AI on the cover of a book. Instead, he declared that he wanted: «an evolution of the standard contract for publishers in which the translator will guarantee to the publisher that he will not does not use AI and where the human part of the translation must predominate”.

We will still notice the rather vague content of the promise , even though English largely dominates translator training and the number of books translated into French declines from year to year.

Fortunately, some initiativescontinue to emerge, such as The Translator Factory or The Literary Translation School, which aim to maintain a high level of training among translators while preserving rare languages ​​in translations. Bandages on a wooden leg?

The ball is now in the court of publishers and policy makers. Knowing how to find the right balance between the advantages of AI and the traditional know-how of translators is possible. Culture should not be treated as an economyand artificial intelligence must not be an opportunity to sacrifice rare skills on the job market such as those of translators. For this to happen, public policies and businesses would still need to promote human work in an equitable manner by ensuring that technological benefits are the subject of fair redistribution.

  • The rise of AI already endangers the profession of translator by making it precarious.
  • A petition was launched at the start of the 2023 school year to limit the proliferation of AI translations.
  • For the moment, the National Publishing Union has not taken a firm position on the issue.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116