Professional Interpretation vs. AI Speech Translation: Different Solutions for Different Problems

The relationship between professional interpretation performed by humans and artificial intelligence (AI) speech translation is complicated. While AI promises efficiency and speed, the human touch brings nuance, cultural sensitivity, and a deep understanding of context. As a result, many event and conference organizers, as well as global corporations, are grappling with the need to strike the right balance between ensuring seamless translation and providing interpretation that resonates with diverse audiences.

As the adoption of AI speech translation increases, accuracy and timing are emerging as pivotal challenges that need to be overcome. The real-time nature of translation at international events places a premium on instantaneous and precise interpretations. But can AI meet this demand consistently, or do the nuances of language still elude its algorithms?

Differences Between Professional Interpreters and AI

AI is much more literal than humans. AI does not interpret what is being said — it renders everything in a different language and leaves the interpretation and extraction of meaning to the audience.

AI speech translation cannot detect or decode emotion (at the moment, at least). AI works on the words alone and not the way they were said. It cannot distinguish the emotion someone has put behind words as they speak them. AI speech translation does not get humor, sarcasm, frustration, anger, or any other emotional signals.

When at events or conferences, understanding the emotion behind spoken words is crucial to ensuring the correct interpretation and avoiding misunderstandings. AI speech translation is still far behind humans in this respect. AI subtitles, however, allow the user to read what the speaker has said while still hearing the original speech, potentially allowing him or her to infer the speaker’s emotions.

On the other hand, AI tools don’t get tired, and they don’t need coffee or bathroom breaks. AI can provide a consistent, accurate translation at a relatively low cost. What AI speech translation does is increase the opportunity for significantly more multilingual events, conferences, or business communications. It is in “out-of-scope” situations — in which lack of available professionals or budget keeps events from being multilingual — where AI can be used as an alternative solution.

The following table details more differences between human interpreters and AI speech translation.

Interpreters vs. AI

The Reality for Multilingual Events

The simple reality is that, currently, human interpretation and AI speech translation are two very different solutions. Each has its own place, and therefore the choice should not be seen as an “either/or.”

Overall, this is good news for event planners, conference organizers, and global businesses, as they have the freedom to choose the approach that best fits their unique challenges and goals. More than that, they can combine human interpreters and AI to scale up their language offerings. Some languages can be supported through simultaneous interpretation, while others can be supported through AI.

If you can look past the battle of “humans vs. AI” and see the wider value of bridging language barriers, this uncovers more opportunities for the use of professional interpreters.

Oddmund Braaten
Oddmund Braaten is CEO at Interprefy.


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