BABELVERSE: Disruptive innovation, opportunity or threat? Babelverse and the interpreting profession

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8 réflexions au sujet de « BABELVERSE: Disruptive innovation, opportunity or threat? Babelverse and the interpreting profession »

  1. As a long time professional interpreter and software developer (I started back in the the 14.4kb dial-up modem days) I would be interested to know what technology layer Babelverse offers on top of what everybody with a computer, a decent mic, and a broadband internet connection could do on their own.

    If it’s just Skype for everybody and Babelverse doing the client acquisition and the billing, I’m afraid that the vision is far from being revolutionary at all. For as long as I care to remember we’ve had intermediaries (then brick-and-mortar, now going virtual) whose only skill is to try and resell services that they themselves often have little understanding of.

    I’m no Luddite, and I have 800+ days of remote interpreting under my belt (for television and radio), but professional conference interpreting goes well beyond the 10-minute phone call that a businessman calling abroad needs an interpreter for. Professional conference interpreting is team work, and you need the whole team in the same place. And you can’t do that with consumer electronics.

    And if it were to become an option in the future, which will take both technological innovation and a major re-training effort on the part of the interpreters, why should professionals accept to work anonymously for an outfit that takes 30% off their fees, when they could simply set it up themselves?

    Vincent Buck
    AIIC Conference Interpreter

    1. Thanks for your comment. First off, our vision is not a technological one, why create new technologies when we can utilise the tech we have today, let’s not re-invent that part… yet.

      When it comes to conference interpreting, we’ve acknowledged that this is a different kettle of fish, it requires a great skill and extensive experience, please read about our levels of service, but with the age of internet collaboration, Google Docs, Google Hangouts, Skype Conference Calls, Social Media, we don’t agree that the interpreters have to be in the same room. Perhaps not all interpreters are cut out to work this way, but with the right tools in place it is possible for interpreters along with an interpreter lead to co-ordinate and collaborate on one project while being distributed globally, we’ve already been experimenting with this over the past 2 years and it is possible and works very well, when you put interpreters in the same virtual booth it is amazing watching them collaborate. And thus, because we are already using tools people are familiar with (web browser, tablets, smartphones, telephony networks, the internets) the re-training is very far from major. All tech-savvy translators and interpreters know how to use Google. Same thing with Babelverse.

      To make it clear, we believe there is a place for in-person conference interpreting, but we are bringing interpreting to a client base (events/conferences/live streams) that would otherwise be unable to afford it, or just simply it wouldn’t cross their minds that such a service exists.

      There is a transition, there is this thing we call the internet now, it is inevitable things will evolve.

      Remember, our vision is to create the universal translator and bring interpretation to the masses. It is not a technological one per se.

      Also, our interpreters do not work anonymously, all our translators and interpreters have public profiles (for example) and we recognise their interpreting work see here: we are not middle men who try to hide their language pool, we spotlight and put a face to our amazing force of global language talent.

      Good luck Buck.

      1. Sir,

        Thank you for confirming that Babelverse is indeed turning out to be just another intermediary and not an integrated platform for providing professional remote interpreting services.

        Now, you write that « in the age of internet collaboration (…), we don’t agree that the interpreters have to be in the same room ».

        May I ask who is « we » and why I or anyone reading this for that matter should lend credence to that view?

        As it happens, interpreting has been researched quitae extensively over the past 50 or so years.

        In the mid 90s, the FTC cracked down on AIIC in the US for allegedly engaging in price-fixing, but had to dismiss all charges regarding to other professional standards. As you may or may not know, such standards include team strength or the length of an interpreter’s working day, but also sound quality and the location of booths (and screens, in the case of remote).

        Indeed, scientific studies have shown that such standards are necessary not only to guarantee the health of the professionals concerned, but also the quality of service. For instance, an interpreter – however experienced – will start fudging after 1 hour solo on the mic, and not even realize it.

        You say that your experience over the last 2 years indicates that your system works very well. Is that merely an opinion or have you conducted appraisals? If yes, could you let us have the protocol?

        The least you could do is provide samples such sterling interpreting work. I seem to remember that you launched your service with last year’s State of the Union address. Why don’t you have recordings of Babelverse interpreters so that anyone interested may listen to form an opinion?

        At any rate, picking the state of the Union address as an opening event seems to indicate that you think Babelverse is amenable to conference interpreting.

        I also tried in vain to listen in during last year’s Techcrunch Disrupt but all I could hear is somebody apparently breathing heavily into the microphone. Not that it mattered at all, since the typical TD attendee speaks and understands English well enough not to rely on interpreting services.

        As far as I can see, the significant risk with services such as Babelverse is that you may get some traction in some markets where interpreting is not primarily done by professionals (the USA comes to mind).

        The net result of all this will be some money for you but a systematic dumbing down of interpreting as a profession.

        As it happens, there are people who spend 5 years at university, a few more years in the country(ies) of their languages to further hone them, apply for membership in a professional association when they have stood the test of the market, before they dare call themselves an interpreter. And they have a legitimate hope to ply their trade in acceptable working and monetary conditions, knowing full well that an interpreter is only as good as his or her last job. I’m afraid that awarding them ‘Babelverse badges’ and hosting their profile on your website, may not quite be enough recognition for all that hard work.

        It’s not just the interpreters. As a professional I firmly believe that clients and users who depend on interpreting are entitled to the best possible service.

        I’m afraid that you in your drive to make the front page of Hackernews you have been rushing a few things. It’s one thing to launch a website, go social and appeal to a community of like-minded technoratis who have a smattering of two or three languages. It’s another to understand what the profession that you’re trying to sell.

        1. Some very valid comments have been made above, but aside from the points raised there, I am left wondering how two non-interpreters can get a full grasp of such a complex profession.

          The interpreting market is notoriously difficult to work one’s way into, as any established or budding interpreter can testify to. And here I am talking about it being difficult for well-trained intelligent professionals who know what they are doing. Learning one’s way around the market involves years of making mistakes, opening one’s eyes to the panoply of different clients and their needs, learning how to avoid treading on others’ toes and understanding other interpreters and their expectations in order to work together.

          It’s no surprise to see an initiative like Babelverse springing up, since it’s true, there’s a lot of technology out there and a lot of people who want to be interpreters. However, providing interpretation is not as simple as linking the speaker, interpreter and listener via an internet connection, whether or not it be with cutting-edge technology. And it is probably difficult to understand the reasons why without having worked as an interpreter.

          I feel that where Babelverse really falls down is its lack of understanding of what conference interpreting entails, and it is a shame to see so much energy invested in a project which is potentially very misguided.

          I don’t see where the innovation in this idea lies, given that any number of interpreters could have bunched together in the past and paid good money to someone with technical expertise to set up a similar system if it were the right direction to take the profession in. It’s true that repackaging interpreting and giving it the shiny gleam of a Silicon Valley startup is maybe something new. But that does not mean that it will improve the experience for the client or the interpreter, and it will certainly do nothing to raise the quality of interpretation.

          There are a certain number of things which could be changed in the interpreting profession, but one project which provides an internet link to a conference room and labels it as innovation is not likely to be one of the upcoming great breakthroughs.

          However, I am ready to be proven wrong and will be interested to see any replies regarding my two colleagues’ comments above.

      2. I’m not wholly convinced Babelverse is concerned with ‘democracy’ and bringing expensive interpreting to ‘poor’ users ‘who would otherwise be excluded’; despite its claims to contrary.

        It’s hard to believe travellers will use it. At best/worst they’ll use Google on their
        smartphones or even continue to have fun trying to communicate in a foreign
        language. Glomads obviously have no spirit of adventure.

        Most companies can budget for interpretation and don’t need to give 30% to
        Babelverse. They can negotiate a price with smaller companies or individual
        translators and interpreters who already work at home alone or with
        ‘boothmates’ at low/’reasonable’ rates. Yes, it looks like some companies are
        already there.

        Interpreters working for courts, hospitals, police (and therefore, possibly the poor people who really need interpretation, including the sick, asylum seekers etc ) have already been taken advantage of by other companies who also, on contract with government bodies, fix rates that leave the interpreters with very
        low incomes.

        Is this just another service provider/ company wanting to make a profit as an intermediary, not even inventing new technology, just playing on the sympathies of the crowd. But the crowd shouldn’t be fooled.

        Is this just another start-up reacting to reports that translation and interpretation is the most rapid growth industry at the moment? Middlemen and agents responding to a call to make a quick return?

        Marta Piera Marin

  2. I’ll be joining the Google hangout. I want to hear what Babel is going to say. Remote interpreting is here to stay (we all know that). I want to enter the conversation and make sure they adress critical issues (working conditions, liability, payment, quality assurance, among many others) If Babelverse comes up with a deadline by which the platform will be completely ready, I will try it and write my own post about it. I want to be proactive. I think both Babelverse and the interpreting community will benefit from discussion. In fact, all these posts here and in several other sies are a great way to the dialogue started.

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