MIT’s Technology Review released an ominous headline today: “Human translators are still on top — for now.” The crux of the article? How computational linguists have determined that “[m]achine translation for document review works well for sentences but turns out to falter on the document level.”

What does this mean, and why should a legal staffing company be interested? Besides the fact that it makes for interesting reading, it’s because SuitsOn Staffing provides legal document review services. Like other industries, we have wondered whether artificial intelligence and the robot uprising would consume our work, automating processes and rendering positions obsolete.

(To be clear, this MIT article discusses human translators versus machine translators, which included translation of documents from Chinese to English. SuitsOn Staffing provides document review for legal companies. This is just a theoretical discussion of proficiency.)

Humans are Still in the Lead

Thanks to Samuel Laubli at the University of Zurich, along with some interested colleagues, we now know humans have the ability to assess documents from a different perspective than machines can. That different perspective is imperative.

While researchers did not find a significant difference in the fluency and adequacy of translated sentences, human translations rated better for translated documents as a whole. Researchers believe machines only perform a sentence-by-sentence evaluation, and as such, they lose sight of the overall picture. How would a machine notice a mistranslation unless it is conveyed in proper context? This was referred to as “errors related to textual cohesion and coherence.”

What does this mean for legal document reviewers? Applying that article’s conclusion to this type of work, it means that while optical recognition software is an incredible feat of technology, that software currently does not comprehend a document more accurately or more efficiently than a human document reviewer.

So that means human document reviewers are safe — for now.

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