Category Archives: Elena Langdon

The Bots Are Coming!

Automated and AI-driven Programs for Business

By Elena Langdon

Elena Langdon- AI

Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are all the rage these days, for good reason. The technology behind once too-good-to-be-true tools like facial recognition and 3D printing has advanced by leaps and bounds. Many of us own or pine for “smart” devices and use dozens of apps a day for personal purposes. So what about business? How far can automation and AI help boost productivity and profit at work? And what are the no-go zones for this exciting area of development?

First, some terms

“Automation” and “AI” are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences. “Automation” refers to processes that can be undertaken through a chain of events that trigger each other, without human interference. We’ve seen it in manufacturing for decades. Simple contemporary business examples would be Hootsuite or Buffer, the programs that help automate a business’s social media participation.

“Artificial intelligence” refers to machines undertaking processes and making choices, on their own, based on their programming and what they learn from it. There are different levels of AI, and the most powerful two—levels at which a machine can understand human thoughts, and be self-aware, respectively—have not been reached. So what can be accomplished now?

The digital-assistant revolution

While C-3PO from Star Wars or Ava from Ex Machina are not in our immediate reality, AI is a driving force behind many business applications.

Personal digital assistants like Siri and Cortana are good examples of AI-driven programs that can boost productivity, save time, and facilitate our lives. With one of these programs you can delegate scheduling, play music, and check the stock market, all without typing, thanks to voice recognition capabilities. Pen, paper, and typing can be eliminated from the entire process.

Google Duplex is a newer digital assistant that takes automation to a whole new level. It makes calls to humans to schedule appointments, request information, and order food. Instead of speaking with a typical robotic tone, Google Duplex mimics real speech patterns and uses fillers like “um” and “hmm.” Plus, this bot interacts with human responses and can carry on a conversation. Probably for this reason, its reception so far has included a mixture of awe and trepidation.

Proceed with care

Caution might be needed for that type of digital assistant, especially from ethical and privacy standpoints. Should a human receptionist know he is talking to a machine? Is he being recorded so that Google can learn from the exchange? Nevertheless, most of the tasks accomplished by Google Duplex involve little personal risk. If your haircut gets scheduled at the wrong time, it would be a nuisance, but probably not a big loss.

However, some types of AI-driven programs must be approached with caution when it comes to business because of the risks involved. For example, in language translation, the technology cannot yet match the human capacity for communication. Automatic translation engines are great for getting the gist of a letter or website, but using them for business can result in embarrassment, misinformation, and even financial loss. Most companies put time and money into writing compelling and clear texts; foreign-language copy requires the same attention. Despite recent advances in deep learning, machine translation is not like Google Duplex—it does not “sound” human, much less eloquent. More importantly, accuracy is seriously compromised with automatic translation—just think of all the menus with indecipherable items like, “The water fries the potato” and signs that say, “Beware of safety.”

The same caution is needed for verbal translation, or interpreting, which has made headlines with programs that combine machine translation with voice recognition. Holding a conversation with someone in a language you don’t know by using “translator earbuds” might work for casual exchanges with inconsequential outcomes. However, if you need to speak to an employee about her performance or to an international branch manager about next quarter’s sales goals, you cannot rely on AI to accurately transmit your message. Between speech recognition flaws, cultural differences, and the incredible creativity behind any human being’s speech, it’s best to stick to a professional interpreter for bilingual business communication.Work patterns and skills are certainly changing, but the bots are not taking over just yet. Click To Tweet

Lawyer up or bot up?

If creative speech is one reason not to trust the machines, what about legal discourse? Does it make sense for a business to rely on automated contract-writing programs or document-reviewing apps? As with many machine-based applications, such programs can work, albeit in a limited context for limited purposes.

AI-driven programs will review legal documents at a fraction of the cost of a lawyer. This review process takes humans significant time, and lawyers take years to master it, yet computers have apparently learned the skill. That said, even app’s websites make it very clear that the apps will not provide legal advice, and that it should be used only for the specific purpose of reviewing documents. The formulaic language and boilerplate nature of legal documents lends itself well to AI, and frees up time and money for actual legal strategy. In some ways, it’s similar to translation—you can get some entry-level tasks done, just not anything that requires tactics or nuanced meaning. And of course, nothing that involves any risk to your business.

Look both ways before you leap

Next time you see an ad for a new app that looks like a miracle cure for what’s ailing your business, by all means, don’t ignore it. There are many good applications for automated and AI-driven programs. Just be sure to research the program and consider its uses. The more complex the task, and the more it involves human reasoning, the less likely it will work for business, at least in an all-encompassing manner. Work patterns and skills are certainly changing, but the bots are not taking over just yet.

 

Elena Langdon is a certified Portuguese-to-English translator and interpreter and an active member of the American Translators Association (ATA). The American Translators Association represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 103 countries. For more information on ATA and to hire a translation or interpreting professional, please visit www.atanet.org.

When It Comes to Communication, More Is More

By Elena Langdon

Elena Langdon

In our world of information overload, less is often more. This old adage still applies in the world of communications—think website or marketing copy that is best short and sweet. Yet context and preparation is needed when human interaction is involved. The more time and energy you invest upfront, the more time, money, and headaches you’ll save down the line.

Take the example of a Midwestern pharmaceutical company that contacted a local Spanish teacher to help with communication during a visit with South American physicians. All was going well until it came to the specific condition a new medication could treat: COLD, or chronic obstructive lung disease. The teacher, who hadn’t been briefed about the company’s specific focus, spent the day talking about the new “wonder drug” that could cure a common cold. The pulmonologists were not impressed and the company did not win any new business that day.

In your line of business you might not need to communicate with foreigners, but you will most likely work with some sort of communication expert at some point. Below are some guidelines to better prepare for working with any outside expert who specializes in communication, including copywriters, marketing and brand consultants, designers, and trainers.Clear communication depends on contextual knowledge. Click To Tweet

Know thy contractors: Before selecting an outside communications consultant, ask about expertise in your specific setting or field, not just years of experience. For example, if you hire a copywriter for a newsletter or website, look at her portfolio to see if she’s worked in your line of business before. Working directly with the contractor makes this easier, but if you are getting proposals through an agency, many will also provide information on the individual’s credentials and past work.

Explain your audience: Clue the contractor in as to whom they’ll be working with. For example, if you’re looking for a consultant to deliver a workshop on employee engagement, let them know what your corporate structure looks like. Names and roles are especially helpful, as are division, unit, and project names. This will help make the workshop relevant and personalized, even though an outsider is presenting it.

State your purpose: Your team and your counterparts across the table might know why you are discussing a contract, but an external expert brought in for the day won’t. What are everyone’s goals? Are the stakes high and the situation tense? Think of communication experts as extensions of your team and brief them accordingly. If they know your purpose(s), they can better understand you and transmit your message accurately.

Get it in writing: Perhaps this is obvious, but make sure you draw up a contract when working with an external contractor. Some important sections to include are confidentiality, deliverables, and duration of work. Think about licenses, certification, and insurance, too, if there is any risk involved in the work being supplied.

Provide context: Clear communication depends on contextual knowledge, so provide as much background information as possible. Let’s say you need an interpreter to help you sort out an HR problem with an employee who is more comfortable in another language. Inform the interpreter about any previous meetings, the main issues to be discussed, the type of work the employee does, and anything else you think is relevant.

Explain specific jargon and acronyms: Your internal jargon or acronyms might seem like second nature to you at this point, but they probably sound like alphabet soup to an outsider.  A short list or glossary can be helpful so that time isn’t wasted trying to decipher “the BPO merger” or the “quarterly up-queue.” And be especially careful with polysemous words like in the pharmaceutical example above.

Consider your space: If you will be working with someone who will need to speak to your employees or visitors, let them know what the physical space looks like. Will you be sitting, standing, or touring a facility? How many people need to hear the external contractor? Will you play a video or will participants join via Skype or speakerphone? Knowing this information will allow the external expert to better prepare for the situation or even suggest things you haven’t thought about. If working with foreign clients, for example, simultaneous interpreting equipment might be needed.

Make the most of their time: Whether it’s an hourly rate or a monthly quota of deliverables, you are paying for the contractor’s time. Think of ways to shorten meetings, including clear agenda items and committee work that does not involve the contractor. The more focused you are while the external consultant is on the clock, the better.

Send files ahead of time: Always send any documentation that will be discussed a few days in advance. Agendas, contracts, previous meeting minutes, presentation slides—anything that provides context and terminology will greatly enhance communication and save time during the actual meeting or event.

This all might seem daunting, but following these guidelines is the best way to ensure you are fully prepared to work with an outside communication expert. Share your goals, purpose, audience, and insider knowledge in advance and you will save time and money in the long run. Generally speaking, if you follow the rule of “more is more,” then everyone will be on the same page and you will reap the rewards.

Elena Langdon is a certified Portuguese-to-English translator and interpreter and an active member of the American Translators Association. The American Translators Association represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 91 countries. Along with advancing the translation and interpreting professions, ATA promotes the education and development of language services providers and consumers alike. For more information on ATA or translation and interpreting professionals, please visit www.atanet.org