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!

Synopsis:

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.

 

Just as true today as it was 4 years ago

A little under 4 Year’s ago I posted a blog about people’s search activity and when I read it today I thought that it would be a great idea to re-post it, as the content is just as valid, if not more so, as it was back then. Instead I’ve copied the content into a new post so that I could add an interesting little footnote.

MAY- 2013

I recently read a post by Barry Schwarzt that highlighted a decision which Google made to drop a service that they said was rarely used and this action got me thinking about why this might be.

Very simply put the service enabled users to type in search criteria in a their native (source) language and then use a drop down tab to choose a different language to search in.  Google would then use its own Google translate MT engine to fulfil the search request in that language and produce the results, again using Google translate, in the original source language .

It was particularly useful if you were searching for legislation changes in foreign countries, market leading influencers in industry sectors in foreign countries and invaluable when researching companies or individuals in foreign countries.

Now some of you may be asking “what’s the big deal? I only ever search in my own language anyway” well that’s the point.  Google has evaluated this service and decided that its usage is so negligible that maintaining it as a service is not worth it.  In other words “People only search in their native language!”

So why is this?

  • Is it because people don’t trust Google translate? There are enough horror stories around to suggest that this could be one of the reasons.
  • Is it because people didn’t even know the service existed? Another very plausible possibility; I certainly only found out about it through accident and I would consider myself fairly tech savvy.
  • Or is because we humans are just too frightened of making a mistake and therefore adding another potential failure variable into our search for answers is just a variable too far?

My personal belief is that it is predominantly just human nature and that we are predisposed to take the easy, or tried and tested, option.  If we haven’t been shown how to use something or don’t understand how to use something then we just won’t do it, which leads me nicely on to why over 72% of internet users only visit sites in their native language and why over 52% will not buy ANYTHING from a website which is not in their native language and only 30% will buy something if the Ts&Cs are in their native language.

Consider the following:

You are walking down the high street and there are two shops both advertising the same thing in the shop window.  Shop 1 is selling this item at a price which is 10% more than Shop 2. The problem is Shop 2 is selling a Dunstabzugshaube and all the specifications are in German.  Shop 1, however is selling an Oven Extractor Fan with the specifications in English, now which one would you buy???

Transfer this simple logic to a website and suddenly even finding the shop becomes a major task if you don’t speak that language.

February 2017

With the next 2 billion internet users to come online not having English as their primary, or even secondary, language the time to start opening up your shop window to a new audience has never been more critical. If you want to learn how to do this effectively and in line with your budget then just get in touch I’ll be happy to listen.

TGL

English is our lingua franca

It has always been somewhat of a mainstay objection which I come across when talking to potential clients about their need for linguistic services, that English is the company’s lingua franca and therefore all their training and internal documentation is done in English.

How shocking then to see that in one such industry sector (Aviation) that over a 1000 deaths can be attributed to miscommunication between native speaking English air-traffic controllers and non-native speaking pilots. Read more here

It was a Harvard Business Report which highlighted this to me in an article last November Upon a more detailed scrutiny of the data there’s actually an alarming amount of non-conscious (I hope at least) arrogance running through the whole idea that everyone in business speaks English. My hat, however, is most deservedly doffed to the German trade unions, who’s country fair quite highly in the list of proficient English speakers in the workplace, but who insist that delivery of company learning the material to their German workforces is in German regardless of the level of their English competency.

In fact when I made the decision to study in Germany way back in the mid 90s I was told that before I could embark upon that journey in my chosen subject matter I would have to attain a mark that was within the top 2% in Germany in German, Mathematics and English ; and to do this I personally had to go to night school for nearly 4 years. Fortunately, my many sleepless nights were worth it and I managed to get the prerequisite grades required. This level of minimum requirements felt pretty harsh at the time, but I was being re-trained by, and entirely funded by, the Union so they weren’t going to just let anyone do it.

All of this is quite eye-opening but what I found most interesting about the results from the Harvard study was not just the lack of English competency across the board, but the alarmingly low scores in the industry sectors where I repeatedly hear the objection that English is the lingua franca of that industry.

I can personally see that, in light of the recent politic shifts, a new wave of language standards are on the horizon; with many countries from across the globe taking on the German principles that in order to do business with them, although you may be able to conduct every meeting in English, when it comes down to documentation and finalising of the contracts then they will want it  all in their own language, bitte!

Now we don’t want any miscommunication now do we?

TGL

Using multilingual employees to translate

I recently listened to a live broadcast titled Coping with Translation which essentially was a panel of industry specialists discussing the need for “instantaneous” translation in today’s fast moving media world.  During the event the subject matter of using multilingual employees was raised and a few guidelines were mentioned as to when, and more importantly, when not to use them.

For me the best answer came from Renato Beninatto and I tweeted as much after he said it.

“If you need to control your message then use a professional translation service great answer.”

It is this statement which I’m picking up on today because it encompasses a great way to begin to understand the impact translated material can have on your business.

At some point in the life cycle of a business somebody comes along and suggests that to expand any further we should look at overseas markets.  I’ve blogged about how to evaluate where your efforts should be focussed before, but this is the next step.

Sometimes having an employee who speaks a particular language becomes a clouding decision making factor in that process but nonetheless it will certainly help when it comes to being able to decipher some of the email communication later down the line.  However using them to build a web presence is not really going to add any value to your marketing strategy.  In most cases quite the contrary! Using these employees to sanity check professionally translated content might also seem like a great idea, however unless they are professionally trained in the art of linguistics they will most likely only be able to offer an opinion from a stylistic position.  Even then, if they’ve not been in the country for some time, they may well not be familiar with some of the more “en-vogue” colloquialisms running through the language at the time.

To give this last argument a little more weight just think about some of the websites you have visited recently.  How many of them do you feel are showing signs of age and how old do you think they are?  Despite dynamic content and a full blown CMS (content management systems) the look and feel of a website, including the vocabulary, becomes dated quite quickly.  I read recently that to stay in tune with your target audience your website needs updating at least every 3 to 6 months, it should be refreshed every 12 to 18 months and given a full makeover every 3 to 5 years.  It is also worth bearing in mind that none of this activity includes the constant updating of your FAQs, blog and social media content.

So if a bi-lingual employee reviews your freshly translated web content for a country they’ve not been living in for a few years, their perception of what is fresh and cutting edge will most likely be at odds with a native linguist from that country who is resident there.  If you then accept the critique of this employee and request the changes based on this critique, you could inadvertently be sending out a dated message on the first day of your launch.  Not a great start I’m sure you’ll agree.

Now you may feel that all this is a little bit extreme but what I’m trying to do is highlight the point Renato was making.  You wouldn’t be engaging with a professional translation agency if you could read and write the content yourself, and you don’t know the language well enough to be certain that what your employee is telling you is correct.  With a professional agency you have far greater security that your message is going to be correct for the target market.  If the LSP you engage with asks the right questions in advance of any work being started, you can also be assured that what you will receive in return will yield a much better ROI in a much shorter time-frame.  This will then free up your bi-lingual employee to continue doing the job which they were originally employed to do.

Some might call this the classic WIN-WIN

What is your USP?

How often do you hear this question?  In a sales environment it is something that is drummed into you throughout your sales career.  Each company has their own “USP”  (Unique Selling Point) or so they will tell you anyway.  However, why is it that some people sell more than others in the same company? I mean if they all have the same USPs to play with then surely they should all be pretty much on the same level.  I’m being flippant! Clearly there is experience, business understanding, training and many other factors which contribute to a salesperson’s success and this is the point I’m going to pick up on.

In today’s very busy world how do you make your company stand out from the crowd?

I’ve actually already answered this question in the opening paragraph.  The USP that matters has very little to do with the company, it is actually YOU.  You are the difference that your company needs.  Let’s just take a hypothetical situation to highlight what I mean:

John and James both work as independent consultants for the same B2B communication company.  They have fixed prices which neither of them can deviate from and they both have the same set of USPs to work with.  Both John and James have the same amount of experience and have received identical corporate business training but when they both turn up to meet the same client 80% of the time the sale is given to John and not James.  Why?

The reason is because John has found his own USP.  With very few exceptions nearly all B2B selling comes down to how you position yourself and not the company you work for.  How many times has it been said that if you get “Mr or Ms X” in front of the decision maker you’re most likely to win the business?

So how has John found his USP?  What has he done to get there?  He’s worked hard is what he’s done.  Sunday evenings he’ll be sat at home taking an hour out to plan his week ahead.  Each night he’ll take half an hour of his own time to fine tune his plans for the next day.  He will read industry magazines and he will become a valued resource, or expert if you’d rather, in his own field of business.  He will not only understand his own line of work but he’ll also take the time out to understand his potential client’s business too.  He’ll be able to demonstrate how he’s helped similar clients achieve their corporate goals through his assistance in the past and he’ll know when to call in another expert when his knowledge or expertise runs out.

The list of activities which John will do above and beyond James is endless and they all go to creating John’s USP.

So my question to you is:

What’s your USP?

I grew up with a lawyer as a father!!!!

A hugely misleading title to this blog post, well on face value it is anyway, because my father most certainly wasn’t a lawyer.  It does add great metaphorical value at the end though 🙂

A recent post on the UKTI LinkedIn group asked if there were any grants available to assist in the translation of their website into South American Portuguese.  Despite being quite active on this group recently I decided, initially, not to comment on this post for a couple of reasons.

  • I didn’t see the post within the first few days of it being published
  • Once I did see the post, the comments I read on it prompted me to write this blog post instead.

The question has been posted by someone who, quite clearly, doesn’t know much about the technical skills required for website localization.

It is also very apparent that she has a need for professional advice on this subject matter.

As a result the contributors offered various forms of help, ranging from “I’ve forwarded this to a friend of mine to see if he can help” through to multilingual business managers offering their translation services.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt that somebody who is multilingual would be able to knock up a reasonable translation but it won’t be a professional website localization targeted at the desired audience and including professionally sourced keywords for that locale.  And that’s my point.  People who have studied linguistics to become a professional translator or interpreter have spent years perfecting their craft in an educational environment.  They continue to learn throughout their professional career and they quite often come from a different professional background bringing the skills and expertise they have mastered in that profession into the linguistic world with them.  Finally they are extremely passionate about what they do, which is why they are so darn good at it.

In short; there is no substitute for a professionally localized website!

I am pleased that so many people reached out to help the lady who asked the original question but here’s my advise. (which I have since posted in response to the question)

  • To find out if there is a grant available for website localization, I would speak to your local UKTI rep.  I am fairly certain that there is match funding for such activities but I am no longer involved enough to know for sure.
  • And If your website is going to be your international shop window in South America then have it done professionally.

So here’s the metaphor:

Asking someone who has grown up in a multilingual environment but has not received any professional linguistic training to “professionally” translate something for you, is the same as asking someone who grew up in a family of lawyers to defend you in a court of law.

You just wouldn’t!

Trust me I’m an accountant 😉

The Danger of Departmentalization

I recently came across a blog on the Harvard Business Review which departmentalized sales people into 5 different categories.

  1. Relationship Builders
  2. Hard workers
  3. Lone Wolves
  4. Reactive Problem Solvers
  5. Challengers

After reading the article I posted a question on the Advance Selling Podcast LinkedIn group page asking the question as to whether “Challengers” were the future of sales.  There were a number of responses to the question and these prompted a new debate in my head about how easy it is to “box” something up into a pre-fabricated category just so that it is easier to filter through it and find what we’re looking for. Within the Localization industry we too are departmentalized; company size, service offerings, geographical location, etc etc and this is why a salesperson’s role in our industry has become so much more difficult.

There is a pre-conception about you and your company before the first contact has even been established, you have already been departmentalized.  It is now your job as the salesperson to first understand which box you have been placed in and then go on to find out from the prospect why you have been placed in this box. You then need to establish if this is what the prospect is looking for or if it was just some kind of filtration method they’ve used to narrow down the 47,000 field of LSPs into a more manageable size.  Regardless of which the world within which we now find ourselves is so fast-moving that if you’re in the wrong box you’re in for a bumpy ride.

So let us presume that you have found yourself in a positive filtered box and the prospect is now engaging with you.  It is now your job to establish the full extent of the prospect’s requirements and, within boundaries of their departmentalization system, differentiate yourself from the others in this same box.  The sales process hereafter continues in earnest and each of you will have your own way of doing things.

Back now, to the original statement; “The Danger of Departmentalization” In this very brief description above about how difficult understanding the departmentalization of a company can be to the sales process in the localization industry, we can quite clearly see how limiting it can be to narrow down a large field of providers by using simple departmentalization tactics.  It is understandable that reducing such a large field of providers is a requirement but at the end of the process are we really getting the best service for our specific requirements?  Let’s be honest we all see ourselves and our business as unique so why should our requirements be any different?

The reasoning behind this process is driven by our need to have something quickly, so why not step back and start the process a little sooner?  In so doing you can be more specific about your requirements and take a little more time listening to, and then choosing, the right service partner for you.  Departmentalization is a very valid requirement but over simplifying and rushing the process will lead to poor decisions being made.

Should your content be more personal?

As the digital revolution continues to move on, even Moore’s Law is beginning to struggle to keep up so want chance have we got?  In reality though it is no longer the speed of the hardware, or in fact the speed of your internet connection, (although I would question the latter on most days) but it is in fact the speed with which we communicate these days which is the most difficult thing to keep up with.

The latest victim of this increase in desire for immediate news is Google’s Reader.  When questioned as to why they closed this service down they said that it was rarely being used and that people were getting their information much faster from other sources shared on social media.  Personally I was a quite annoyed about this decision as I liked to have a small pool of articles to read on my phone during breakfast but technology found an answer to that too and I just flipped over to another reader which gave me this and much more (sorry Google your loss on this occasion).

Back to the point though; in this ever-increasing on-line population how important is it that what you read is tailored to you?  Well if you read this blog on CMS Connected written by guest blogger Thom Robbins it would seem that it is not only important but considered the best way to market your products and/or services.

So what about the future generation of users?  The Times of India talks about the next 1 billion users possibly not being able to speak English, in fact in my last Blog there is a link to the world internet users and population statistics which corroborates this statement.

Tie these two together and suddenly the importance of having personalized content in your mother tongue is the utopia of marketing.  In fact Willy Brandt knew this quite some time ago when he said  “If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen sie Deutsch sprechen”

So without a doubt “Content Marketing” is where the future lies and delivering this content in a personalized a localized format is going to keep you, and your company, one step ahead of the rest.