KUDO CEO Takes On the ‘AI vs Human Language Interpreters’ Debate

Cartoon laptop vs cartoon human interpreter

The AI-shaped elephant in the room

To discuss or not to discuss. Companies whose bottom line depends on the services of skilled professionals will tell you there’s no debate—that AI will never be able to do what they can. Those raising millions in venture capital to automate such services might opt for silence on the topic. (And in case you’re wondering, no, this blog post was not written by ChatGPT).

At KUDO, we’re in a unique position in the AI world; we sell human interpretation solutions as well. In fact, it’s our bread and butter. Our team has spent years building a marketplace of 12,000 professional language interpreters, as well as technology allowing them to join your meetings, conferences, and events with just a few clicks. And we have no intention of stopping. So, when it comes to the dreaded ‘human vs AI’ question, we’re about as objective as it’s possible to be.

The most recent people to ask it were the video content team at WIRED by Condé Nast. Was it crazy to agree to a live comparison of our AI Speech Translator with two extremely experienced interpreters—only one month after launching it in pilot mode? Possibly. But if AI leaders shy away from the conversation then it inevitably turns into a monologue.

And in that spirit, you will find the video comparison further down this post.

‘Humans vs AI’: Our survey says…

To summarize, the answer is what you might expect: AI deals with speed and accuracy of speech translation remarkably well, but lacks the emotion, thoughtfulness, and nuances of a human interpreter.

Let’s get the caveats out the way; first, accuracy is an inconsistent variable among both interpreters and the different machine translation tools they are being pitched against.

Second, KUDO AI is a technology in the early stages of its potential. Already in the space of one month since this video was filmed, we have redone our AI engine to staggering results and added features for greater glossary customization. In short, it’s a safe bet to say that our Speech Translator is only going to improve in quality and in acoustic ‘aesthetics’.

So we’re sorry to disappoint you, but where language is concerned, ‘humans vs AI’ is a case of comparing apples and oranges.

And maybe that’s the problem with the debate today: AI is only ever spoken of in terms of being a ‘replacement’. If WIRED’s video gets one thing spot on, it’s the suggestion that AI should be developed for situations where there is no viable alternative. After all, isn’t problem-solving through technology the ultimate yardstick of human progress?

Which leads me to a question I am often asked at KUDO…

Why would a human interpretation company launch an AI Speech Translator? 

That’s easy. We have never lived through an era of globalization on today’s scale. Technology designed to improve the way we all live and work has never been more prevalent. Yet when it comes to our basic need to hear and be heard, ‘Business English’ is still resorted to by most organizations for their internal and external communication.

In 2017, KUDO set out on a mission: ‘to give everyone the power to understand and be understood in their own language’. We came a long way with our interpreter marketplace; by 2022, our clients—including some of the world’s largest institutions, NGOs, and corporations—were adopting language-accessible communication.

But the reality is that there are some problems on a scale too complex for humans to solve ourselves. And language is the perfect example; not everybody can travel around the world with a human interpreter strapped to their side, or pick up the phone to call a contact center with a human interpreter translating in their ear. And above all, the costs involved would be so great that only the top 5% could afford it anyway.

So, in AI, we identified the opportunity to provide language access in situations where there is no alternative, or where human interpretation isn’t feasible. And we did so by developing KUDO AI, a Speech Translator that delivers real-time multilingual audio and captions. AI was the missing piece of the puzzle that we needed to achieve our mission.

Where should AI translation be used over human interpreters? 

We can’t speak on behalf of all speech-to-speech translation tools, but here are some examples of the popular use cases we’ve seen so far with KUDO AI:

  • 24/7 on-demand meetings with no time to book or prepare an interpreter.
  • Meetings that cannot match the budget required for human interpreters.
  • One-to-many presentations like L&D, All Hands meetings, etc.
  • Languages that are difficult to find human interpreters for.

We know the possible use cases for AI are limitless, though, and we look forward to expanding language-accessible communication to these areas in the years ahead.

So, man or machine: who translates better? 

The final word

In the name of playing Devil’s advocate, I also put this question to AI—and as it happens, I agree with its conclusion:

The answer to the question: “will AI replace language interpreters?” is not a simple yes or no. While AI technology has made significant strides in recent years, it seems that it is not yet capable of replacing human interpreters entirely. At least not in industries that place a high value on accuracy and cultural sensitivity. However, for businesses that are looking to expand globally and reduce interpretation costs, AI-powered solutions may be the answer.

As AI technology continues to evolve, language interpretation will undoubtedly be one of the areas where it will have the most significant impact. Chatbots and real-time translation apps are already showing the world what is possible, and AI specialists are developing new ways for natural language processing algorithms to understand the nuances of language. We, as business leaders, should be ready to embrace these advances and take full advantage of the benefits that they can bring.

Ultimately, it will be both human interpreters and AI-powered solutions working together that will create the most successful and efficient global communication strategy.

Fardad Zabetian, Co-Founder & CEO of KUDO.

Interested in a comparison of your own?

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