Of bots, bräuhauses and AI: GALA conference 2019

GALA conferences are intense. And the GALA Conference in Munich held from 24 to 27 March 2019 was no different. Whether it be the chock-a-block conference programme, filled with hugely enlightening sessions, networking with like-minded people during breaks, making new friends and laughing with old ones, or staying up until the wee hours contemplating the industry over Reinheitsgebot beer, you always leave with the realisation that you were part of an educational experience like no other. GALA conferences always have one objective in mind ─ creating a space to share ideas, advice and lessons from experts in the field. All to the benefit of the industry as a whole and the attending individuals and companies in particular.

This year’s theme, “The Changing Role of the Human Being in an AI-driven Language Service Industry”, addressed the biggest question in our working lives, namely how can we prepare for the impending onslaught of the machines? To put it bluntly, “How can I make sure that I’ll still have a job tomorrow?”. Although this question has certainly been asked at previous GALA conferences, delegates at this year’s conference had a much greater sense of urgency to have this question answered. And answered in a way that cuts through much of the haziness that we sometimes feel when speaking about AI.

So what are the main things I took away from the Munich conference besides the keynote speaker’s fascinating talk about the hundreds of daily online contracts we enter into without a second thought (all of those lightning Yes-clicks to cookies, terms and conditions, etc.).

  • I quickly realised there is a huge need to better understand what we are talking about when we discuss artificial intelligence, machine translation, machine learning, neural networks and natural language processing. Using these terms interchangeably (as attendees and sometimes even different speakers did) only adds to the confusion and seriously hampers the creation of a strategy for implementation and future-proofing your business.
  • It is no longer enough to just talk about implementation in the future, you’ll have to start swimming with the AI, machine and automation current sweeping across the industry. Either that or be swept away along with everyone who still clings to the idea that machines cannot influence the way they do their jobs. As one speaker put it, “How many of those LSPs who didn’t believe in CAT tools, terminology software or electronic quality assurance checkers are really still relevant today?”.
  • Video remote interpreting as a service is exploding and will only get bigger as people realise the tremendous impact it can have, both in giving access to interpreters around the world and as aid tools for hard-to-reach communities. AI is also having an impact here, as things like vendor selection and technology to enhance quality in the booth are beginning to play a role.
  • AI and automation are revolutionising sales: customer or potential client research, sifting through an overwhelming amount of data and saving time by automation of certain tasks. Having said this, sales departments will have to find a way to use AI and data processing machines to their advantage, without ever losing sight of the end client’s needs. As technology become smarter, preserving the human element becomes harder. But being customer-conscious is often the driving force behind growth so it is non-negotiable.

The 4th Industrial Revolution is here and these are exciting times. With the human aspect featuring equally in discussions on AI, machine learning and neural networks at GALA Munich, there shouldn’t really be any doubt that humans will remain crucial in the shake-ups we are facing in our industry. But, as with any technological change, people have to realise that adaptation is key. Yes, a lot of the current roles, job descriptions and responsibilities will fall away completely as they are replaced with machines. Yet just as many new ones can be created if people and companies are willing to shed their old skins and embrace the endless possibilities of AI, automation and machine translation in the language service industry.