Silvia Pareschi’s reflections following a conference in the Italian Senate have sparked extensive discussions. She spoke about her profession as a literary translator, the looming sphere of influence of artificial intelligence on creative works, and the dangers of “good enough quality“.
Pareschi is one of the Italian literary translators most appreciated by the public and publishing houses. She has translated works such as Jonathan Franzen’s Le correzioni, Shirley Jackson’s Paranoia, and Ernest Hemingway’s Il vecchio e il mare – New Edition. She is also the writer of I jeans di Bruce Springsteen e altri sogni americani.
As reported by several news agencies and by Pareschi herself through her Twitter profile, the input came during a conference held in the Italian Senate entitled “Artificial intelligence and the future of cultural diversity”.
“I have five years left, I’m told. Five years to continue doing my job, literary translation, before being replaced by a machine that will be able to translate exactly like me”.
These are the words reported by various information channels, capable of stimulating the fears of translators who have seen the concept of substitution as the greatest danger.
In general, when we talk about machine translation, we refer to the fields of translation where human creativity plays a marginal role. We are talking about technical and sectoral translations, where the focus lies on the precision of the text, in compliance with industry requirements, terminological accuracy and, of itself, semantic accuracy.
But what are the dangers in literary translation?
Will good enough quality be the future?
Again, reporting what Pareschi said: “The most immediate danger, however, is that the principle of good enough quality passes. Translating a book with AI will be faster and cost less, and if the quality suffers, it doesn’t matter; the frog quickly gets used to boiling water”.
Technological advances, even in the linguistic field, are often aimed at savings.
The implementation of machine translation guarantees a reduction in costs and time related to the translation process. A reduction that, in the aforementioned areas and with the presence of a human linguist, does not negatively affect the quality of the text.
However, the same cannot be said for literary translation.
When translating works of this type, it is not only the textual aspect that captures the concentration of the linguist. It is necessary to translate the emotions, the rhythm, the pauses, the stylistic choices of the author, and any other nuance.
A task that requires completely human cognitive effort and sensitivity, which makes the presence of the translator an essential condition. It is therefore surprising that an artificial intelligence can replace its talents. Although, considering the sudden developments we have witnessed in recent times, a time span of 5 years could lead AI to achieve goals that are unthinkable today.
In any case, according to Pareschi, quality will be affected, assuming a future scenario in which the market will be divided into two bands: “a mass one in which translations will be generated by machines [with a quality considered acceptable] and an elite one for those who want translations made by humans”.
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