Within what dimension is AI communication?

Before I start I have to warn you that this blog is going to be a little longer than you’re used to from me!


AI is a new buzz word amongst a number of my peers in the language industry and it spans across a variety of other industry sectors too. It has been given an elevated profile in recent months with the introduction of NMT (Neural Machine Translation) by Microsoft and Google. This, in simplistic terms, is machine translation in a large neural network trained by deep structured learning techniques. The results are producing some “human-like” translated content, even if the source of the original content is not entirely accurate. They believe that the accuracy will follow over time, and I don’t doubt that it will get better, but these results could have a more sinister impact in today’s modern communication absorption than on face value. I blogged about this previously. Since writing that piece I’ve been privileged to speak with some highly read individuals on the subject matter of AI, one such person was Marc Cohn who is the VP of Network Strategy at The Linux Foundation, and this has opened up my thoughts to a whole new take on why humans and human contact is so much more important when communicating.

The dimensions of communication:

In order to put this into context, I have broken up the way we communicate and given them dimensions.

Frist Dimension – The written word:

The written word is extremely powerful, as the saying goes “the pen is mightier than the sword” but it lacks in so much in depth and colour. Some of the best authors in the world can evoke these images but each one of those images is personal to you and your own journey to the point in time at which you read the words. How many times have you returned to a book, re-read it, and then seen it in a different way? The point is; we create the texture of what we are consuming from the written word based on our beliefs, state of mind, the speed we’ve read it and numerous other, outside and inside, influences. We’ve no doubt all experienced the social media Keyboard Warriors who then suddenly went silent after something was explained to them over the phone.

Second Dimension – The spoken word:

That leads me quite seamlessly into the second dimension, the spoken word. Our choice of vocabulary, our intonation, our breathing, our volume levels all add another level of understanding to the communication. Unlike the written word, when spoken we can express a simple word like “really” to be one of surprise or one of distrust.  A simple tut after hearing a long explanation as to where you were last night, speaks volumes and evokes feelings in both the respondent as with the receiver not possible without wordy exclamation or emoticons.

Third Dimension – Pictures or images:

The reason so many of us use emoticons is because we need to portrait a feeling visually in accompaniment to the written word. “A picture paints a thousand words” is very true and by coupling the written word together with images or emoticons, we can deliver a richer more lifelike message to the recipient but lacking once again the intonation of the spoken word.

Fourth Dimension – Video and Film:

One of the marketing successes of this generation is creating video content which goes viral. Merging the spoken word with moving images evokes a whole new level engagement with the recipient’s emotions and when done right can create an internet success almost overnight. Sadly it can also be used to evoke emotions such as existential angst, anger and other such ugly feelings resulting in fruitful recruiting grounds for those in society with different moral beliefs than the majority of us.

Fifth Dimension – Live music:

When moving into the direct communication from one human being to another there is nothing more powerful than live music. Thought provoking, beautiful poetry arranged skillfully with musical accompaniment and delivered live on stage is about as intimate as it can get in one-way communication. Yes, there’s an argument that the artist delivering this also get’s their feedback from the reaction of the audience making it a two-way communication of sorts, but this is limited to the message being given and does not diverge greatly from the original message. Obviously, this is very subjective and again the recurring theme of the present moment comes back.

Sixth Dimensions – Group meetings:

Meetings all tend to have some form of agenda, otherwise what is the point of having a meeting right? So when these happen there is generally some steer as to where the conversation is going to go. In a business meeting with more than 3 or 4 people present, it is good practice to have a chair of the meeting and with greater numbers, especially when it comes to negotiations, observers are a must. The communication here is usually divided into pack communication and if there are more than 2 packs they can get very loud and disjointed resulting in them becoming difficult to chair. Rules and guidelines of how to conduct oneself at these meetings will add another level of constraint and complexity to the event and in these cases, a single person needs to provide the authority and purvey over the order of the meeting. – The speaker in the house of commons is a prime example of somebody taking on this role. This communication level is rarely very intimate and emotions are usually evoked by pack mentality and belonging.

Seventh Dimension – Face to Face, or One on One

Before I being this final one, I would like to say that all the dimensions listed do not extend outside of the physical realm. I am aware that there is an etheric level of communications that stretches far beyond the limitations of our physical one, but this is neither the time or place to expand on that. There are also others with far greater knowledge and experience in that field, who can guide you through those if you have the desire to understand more.

Face to Face contact adds the final layer to our cake. Not only do we have the optical stimuli such as eye contact, hand gestures and other body movements, we also have all our other senses, smell, touch, and that all important gut feeling (and yes, this does stretch into the etheric). The power of being in the same room as another human being and being able to converse with one another freely is second to none. Engaging with all 5 (or 6) of the senses immerses one in the full spectrum of available emotions and is by far the most revered form of communication available to any sales professional.

Why AI will never replace human beings in sales:

Taking the above into consideration, it is quite easy to see why AI will not be able to replace sales professionals, but only if both parties value human contact. If you’re a sales person hiding behind social media and emails then you either need to up your game or leave the profession. It really is that simple! AI will certainly become good at recognising some written emotions, and most likely good enough to evoke a purchasing decision in a purely transactional sale such as the purchase of most things you find on Amazon, but it won’t be able to create the content needed to steer people down a purchasing decision that goes beyond that. And it certainly is not good enough to produce the levels of emotions created by books like the Haemin Sunim’s “The things you see only when you slow down”. Similarly, back to my industry, the content created by human linguists in marketing and such like will be extremely difficult to reproduce by the likes of NMT.

Where do you conduct most of your communication?

So far AI has managed to encroach into one or two dimensions of communication making it a fairly flat and mundane form, but they are certainly working on others. However, due to the complexity of the physical realm alone, it will be a long time before they can move it away from this flat communication field. It is in this communication field where I see a large portion of my peers hanging out too and consequently where a large amount of scaremongering content is being produced. This volume of content is clouding the overall reality in my view. There is so much noise about unprecedented job losses through to machines taking over the world with an Orwellian precision that it is often all too easy to just sit back and believe it. Yes, AI can determine your emotion by what you post on your Facebook page, but this is ultimately down to you. So be honest how often are your true emotions revealed on your Facebook page? Right now there are only a select few who know your innermost thought, in fact probably only 1 if you don’t believe, and two or more if you do believe.

So in a business world you ultimately have to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do my clients what to engage with me?
  • How do I communicate with them right now?
  • In which dimension do I produce most of my content?
  • Can I move clients from one dimension to another?
  • Are my clients wanting to move to another dimension?
  • Does what I provide need a deeper and richer understanding?

In summary, there is a lot of good coming from AI and over the years that follow it will only get better. Yes, there are going to be some job losses, as there were in the industrial revolution, but there will also be new opportunities too. However, despite the quickening of the pace of innovation, things will not change overnight and we will all have the time to adjust, who would have thought 10 year’s ago you’d be reading this on a mobile phone (statistically that’s what 60% of you will be doing), but again there’s nothing wrong with that. But here’s the thing,

So here’s the thing, AI technology is here to stay! It is being used in all manner of ways but the one area I don’t believe it will ever take over is real and in-depth communication.


The new Machine translation kid on the block

So here’s a quick overview of NMT. If you’ve not heard of it then it might be a good idea to get a little more familiar with it as this is likely to come up in conversations quite a lot over the coming months.

A handy little overview can be found here

And for what it’s worth here’s my take on it.

Neural Machine Translation has been reported to be so good that native speakers can barely tell the difference between that and human translation… Well that’s the headline we’re reading all over the web right now. Fortunately for our industry this is, once again, a very murky window into reality.

If you ask native speakers, as they have done in this study, to review a completed translated text in their own language they will award it merit upon how easy it is to read, both grammatically and contextually. However without having visibility and being able to understand the source text this is a flat and singular viewpoint 2D if you’d like.

Upon deeper investigation this is where the serious flaw of this new art of machine translation lies. In fact it is more dangerous than you can imagine. Let me elaborate.

The translated text is highly inaccurate when compared to the source text, so much so that regular Google MT translated text is significantly more accurate. As we all know the accuracy of Google MT translated material is already decreasing through their own admission of “Garbage in, Garbage out”. So the main issue here with NMT is, unlike regular Statistical Machine Translation, that the way it is written it is conceived to be true; even though it can be a wholly inaccurate account of the source material. Think misleading information from the gutter press. You take a single statement out of context and build a story around it that sounds believable but in reality is devoid of almost all truth.

As it stands right now, this is where NMT sits. It is in the long line of attempts to automate a human process that really cannot be done, particularly if accuracy and accountability are your end goals.

Yes there are very legitimate and viable uses of MT and a number of companies have them. By using a hybrid of human and machine it can eliminate a huge amount of unnecessary overheads, but here’s the heads up. Please be wary of the claims to NMT; it isn’t there yet and for all the good intentions it is not likely to be for some considerable time.


Localization World June 2013 London

So the Language Olympics have come to a close and it is now time to reflect upon, and then put into practise, some of the things we have learned about over the last few days.  No matter where you come from it was hard not to hear the boisterous buzz in the Novotel London West between the 10th and 14th June and a number of exciting topics were discussed both in and out of the conference rooms and halls.

I personally joined the event on the 12th for a pre-conference workshop covering the topic of “Localization for Start-ups”.  Hosted by Daniel Goldschmidt (Microsoft), Oleksandr Pysaryuk (Achievers Corp.) this workshop covered the need to understand at what point Globalization (G11n), Internationalization (I18n) and Localization (L10n) would need to be engaged in a Start-up company.  To do this the definitions of a Start-up , G11n, I18n and L10n were delivered along with a number of standard business terms used in the Start-up community.  After a good 2 hours the foundations were laid for the second half of the workshop which found us split into 3 groups thinking about a start-up of our own and where G11n, I18n and L10n would have to be part of the growth plan. Then came “The Pitch” to investors.  Luckily for us, we had the World bank in our team and we’d managed to secure the funding before even having to deliver the pitch. We heard three great new start-up ideas and all of teams understood how crucial our industry has become to an ever increasing global audience.

Day 2 was the first day of the 2 day main conference and we were like kids in a sweet shop, quite literally as we,  Capita , opened the “The World’s Local Sweet Shop”

Life is Sweet

Life is Sweet

This did open up a number of other conversation beyond our core expertise.

In all seriousness though the main halls and conference rooms were again buzzing with excitement and there definitely seems to be a shift in our industry’s approach to the growing need for quality and turnaround times (not something that usually goes hand in hand).  Machine translation, content management systems, translation memory software, authoring software with content optimisation, (the list goes on), were all topics of conversation, but the one key element central to all of this was the professional people who use them.  We have some very talented people in our industry and they are ultimately going to be the ones who drive through the quality initiatives from within their own companies, giving the clients we serve the best possible service in this diverse and subjective industry.