What Do We Have to Lose?

The scariest part of any change is that there is always something to lose. When confronted with change, we must determine what we will lose by changing and what we will lose by staying the same.

AI-powered translation is causing massive changes in our industry right now, and there is a tension between adopting them, rejecting them, ignoring them, and fleeing from them. Choosing between these options is difficult because we have something to lose no matter what we do. But losing some things isn’t as bad as losing others.

Adopting Change

I am what some people derisively call a “techno-optimist”, but that name doesn’t bring me shame. I do believe that humans can harness technology to make their own lives and society better. But I am also not naive, I realize that this process isn’t painless. When it comes to changes that translation and localization are facing because of AI, I believe translators can become more accurate, efficient, and creatively empowered by harnessing AI. What we need to sacrifice in order to get there is our sense of comfort and pride.

Learning to use any new tech requires time and energy, and it often makes our lives harder before it makes them easier. This is uncomfortable, especially as we have jobs to complete and lives to live. Few of us have the time to learn new things for sport, so we really have to believe in the investment we are making. When it comes to AI-augmented translation, we really need to buy that it will be better if we put in the time to learn how to use it.

This is where we lose our comfort. Many of us have workflows that run like well-oiled machines, and thinking about changing them can feel like a real threat. But the threat that this change poses to our time and energy in the short term is only part of the story. The real threat that many translators fear is the attack on their pride that they feel AI represents. Many translators believe that AI is an enemy to be toppled, not a tool to be used, so bending their strong stance against AI can feel like a concession.

I understand why the “threats” that AI-augmented translation presents can make translators a little hesitant to try it out, but what we stand to lose by not trying it out is much worse than what we lose if we do.

Rejecting Change

Rejecting AI-augmented translation is the response to the tension in our industry that I see most frequently. It comes in many forms: Saying that AI is inaccurate, not helpful, unethical, and saying that adopting it is endorsing an unfavorable direction for our industry. Everyone is, of course, entitled to reject any change on any grounds they see fit. However, we need to be aware of what we lose with a stance that rejects AI-augmented translation.


The first thing we lose is our head start. As things are now, we have the chance to develop our own processes and abilities in tandem with the development of new technologies. If we don’t use this time to do that, we will end up playing catchup to an industry that demands the use of nascent tech.

The second thing we lose, depending on our grounds for rejecting the use of AI, is our credibility with buyers. If we focus too much on errors or inaccuracies and make general statements about “AI not working”, buyers are going to compare that to the evidence before their eyes. Even if they don’t have a perfect translation in front of them, they aren’t going to see the “completely useless” output that some translators describe when talking about AI.

We have a much better chance of retaining our credibility if we speak specifically about where AI translations don’t hold up, and how we as translators can help produce results that serve the client. If we are simply talking about how “AI sucks”, buyers will see evidence to the contrary and cease to trust our perspectives.

Ignoring Change

Ignoring change is another common response in our industry, but it is invisible. Those who are ignoring change are the linguists and LSPs who go about business as usual and don’t prepare for future paradigms. The danger of this approach is similar to the first danger of rejecting change, which is losing our head start.

By not preparing ourselves to work differently in the near future, we are increasing how uncomfortable it will be to make that change later on. For now, it is easier to work in the way we always have, but that is setting us up for hard times ahead.

It is better to begin adapting now, while it is only slightly uncomfortable and can still be considered a head start. There will always be time to switch from ignoring to adapting, but it will get harder as time goes on.

Exiting the Industry

I often have translators tell me that they would rather leave the industry than adapt to using AI. This is because they have ethical concerns with AI, worries about how AI-augmented translation will be compensated, or they do not like the effect that augmented translation has on their creativity. These are all valid reasons to leave translation if that is what they wish, but leaving translation does come with something to lose.

First, we will lose the talented translators who choose to do this, and they will lose their translation careers. This may ultimately be the right choice for them, but there are still beautiful careers to mourn. Second, these translators will lose the ability to influence the future of translation work. The industry needs shepherds to navigate change, and those who exit will be leaving that responsibility to those who stay. No one should feel obligated to bear this responsibility against their will, but leaving is not a neutral act.

The last thing we lose is the ability to come together to have translation benefit us. When people exit the industry we lose the individuals who can help us keep humans at the center of translation, regardless of what changes we are facing. Exiting is a fair choice, but it is not a choice that defends translators and translation.

iStock-1349363964The changes we are facing are big, and they aren’t going to be rolled back. I promote adaptation to these changes, but I also realize that everyone is going to come at this choice from a different perspective. The important thing is that we all understand the consequences of those choices and that we feel empowered to pursue the path that feels right to us. We can’t do that without reflection and conversation about these topics, so I encourage everyone to ask themselves regularly: “How am I reacting to changes? Am I okay with what I may lose?”


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Topics: ProZ.com, translation industry, technology, AI, Artificial Intelligence, language, best practices, ChatGPT, career development, empowering freelancers

Gabriel Fairman

Written by Gabriel Fairman

Gabriel Fairman is the Founder and CEO of Bureau Works , a cloud-based TMS that leverages generative AI to enhance the human authorship and translation experience. Gabriel has been translating professionally for 20 years. To hear more about AI and translation, follow Gabriel on LinkedIn, Substack, and on the Merging Minds podcast.

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