Interpreters vs Machines : Can Interpreters Survive in an AI-Dominated World? book cover
1st Edition

Interpreters vs Machines
Can Interpreters Survive in an AI-Dominated World?

ISBN 9781138586437
Published December 13, 2019 by Routledge
176 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

From tech giants to plucky startups, the world is full of companies boasting that they are on their way to replacing human interpreters, but are they right? Interpreters vs Machines offers a solid introduction to recent theory and research on human and machine interpreting, and then invites the reader to explore the future of interpreting. With a foreword by Dr Henry Liu, the 13th International Federation of Translators (FIT) President, and written by consultant interpreter and researcher Jonathan Downie, this book offers a unique combination of research and practical insight into the field of interpreting.

Written in an innovative, accessible style with humorous touches and real-life case studies, this book is structured around the metaphor of playing and winning a computer game. It takes interpreters of all experience levels on a journey to better understand their own work, learn how computers attempt to interpret and explore possible futures for human interpreters.

With five levels and split into 14 chapters, Interpreters vs Machines is key reading for all professional interpreters as well as students and researchers of Interpreting and Translation Studies, and those with an interest in machine interpreting.

Table of Contents


Level OneThe fundamentals

Chapter 1: What is interpreting?

Chapter 2: How humans interpret

Chapter 3: How computers "interpret"

Level Two – How machines gained the upper hand

Chapter 4: How we wrecked our own PR

Chapter 5: Speech translation's marvellous (but misleading) marketing

Level Three – Choose your interpreting future

Chapter 6: Human interpreting as a stopgap

Chapter 7: Hanging on with legal help

Chapter 8: Mastering niches

Chapter 9: Making interpreting matter again

Level Four – Interpreting that beats the bots

Chapter 10: Beating the bots Stage One: taking back interpreting PR

Chapter 11: Marketing interpreting that matters

Chapter 12: Deliver more than words

Chapter 13: Coaching and supervision

Level Five – One last thought

Chapter 14: It's time to call a truce



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Jonathan Downie is a consultant interpreter, French to English and English to French conference and business interpreter, researcher and speaker on interpreting. He regularly writes on the connections between research in practice in interpreting and translation for the ITI Bulletin and VKD Kurier. He is the author of the award-winning and critically acclaimed Being a Successful Interpreter: Adding Value and Delivering Excellence.


Jonathan Downie continues his mission to bring interpreting research to the people. Outspokenly, he tackles fundamental questions for interpreters in the 21st Century. Firmly grounded in Interpreting Studies, Downie interlaces research with anecdotes well-founded in any interpreter’s daily life. It is an equally trailblazing and sulphurous book on the aspirations of machine interpreting, and the fatal mistake of not making a difference. The book is a welcome addition both to the debate on the future of interpreting and to my students’ literature list.

Elisabet Tiselius, Stockholm University, Sweden


A deep exploration of the limits of language, technology and the enabling power of human mediation in promoting understanding. This book puts interpreters back in the driver's seat, where they belong.

Ewandro Magalhaes, Technology Advocate and Former Chief Interpreter in the UN System, USA