Happy New Year! Welcome to 2020 and the Transition to a New Generation

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2020 and the Transition to a New Generation

By Chancellor Miyoko Yuasa
Babel University Professional School of Translation

Welcome to the Year 2020!

As we enter the year 2020, we see a world in great transition because of new technology. We should celebrate this transition! Information and communication technology are expected to keep evolving; we can anticipate the shift from 5G to 6G, and even amidst the great global turmoil of 2019 we caught glimpses of what 5G offers. Whether we like it or not, we are mesmerized by what the future of progress holds. I wonder just what is in store?

At first glance, recent changes and phenomenons appear negative, but we must be careful not to succumb to taking a one-sided view, but instead escape conventional judgement ( = stereotypes). We should ask ourselves how the future will develop, being excited as we take part in the new world to come. I look forward to working with you all this year!

Last year, Japan entered a new era when the new emperor took the throne, and the year 2019 marked the first year of Reiwa. Japan is interesting in that it uses a dual system of both the Gregorian calendar and it’s own Japanese calendar. In Japanese, “dual” is “ni-hon”, which is the same as “Japan” (“nihon”) – a fun play on words!

2020 is made up of double “20’s”, and since this year has this unique array of numbers, I believe unique events and situations will occur. This year promises to be one filled with excitement (“tanoshimi-no-toshi” = “exciting city”. “Toshi” also means “year”). Such homonyms are quite entertaining and I use them a lot. Incidentally, there are quite a few similar puns in Japanese. As might be expected, this is unique to the “nihon-date” Japanese language.

English is used as the common language in today’s world, and by translating into English people from many different cultures are able to communicate. However, while there are dialects in Japanese, I think it’s wonderful that in Japan, the Japanese have preserved their language where one can communicate just by using Japanese. How is it that Japan has been able to keep Japanese as it’s core language after the fall of the Tower of Babel, where various world languages emerged? Japan has preserved its language because, from ancient times, Japan, while made up of different clans or groups, has used translation technology to create and preserve a distinct culture. Thus, from ancient times, Japan has been considered a translation nation. In that sense, I believe translation is an important technology that enables the establishment, growth, preservation, and passing on of unique cultures.

“The world is built on translation” – that’s my conclusion after over 40 years of pursuing translation. Two years after entering the translation field, I began the monthly journal The World of Translation, and it was then that I became engrossed with the world of translation.

The term Babel is now used as a synonym for diverse languages, and I realized recently that many companies lately use this word for their business names. In the 1980’s, using the world Babel as a company name took a fair amount of courage. That’s because Babel is derived from the biblical tale of people trying to create a tower that reached to Heaven, thus incurring God’s wrath. Those people were then punished by having their language confused into several different languages. In other words, one language became multiple languages.

No one wants to use a word that symbolizes punishment for the sin of arrogance. However, the tale of the Tower of Babel also explains why there are multiple languages in the world, and it is because these diverse languages exist that people have endeavored to understand each other and thus worked diligently to develop translation technology. The Tower of Babel is therefore not just a story of God’s divine punishment.

Today, I believe our new challenge is AI. One could say that AI is our new Tower of Babel. With the advent of the Internet, people have entered a generation of technology quite different from the ancient times of Babel. 26 years have passed since the commercial Internet began in 1994. Through internet technology, the world has been shaped by the virtual space known as the information network. The key player today is AI. That being the case, I believe humankind is evolving into an existence awakening to the “sixth sense” of information processing – moving beyond from the stereotypical five senses associated with physical space.

It’s quite intriguing to consider how internet technology will develop. Such technology relies on AI – created by human thought systems, while at the same time forcing us to consider just what humankind is. That’s because AI is the programized version of human thought, making us wonder if AI will eventually go beyond the framework of mankind.

There are many expectations surrounding the use of AI, and some wonder if AI will take over translation. This thought however fails to understand what translation – or business for that matter – is, and is an expectation based on such false perceptions. We are still far away from attaining the technology that enables us to perfectly translate between Japanese and Western languages. Considering today’s translation business however, what’s most important is confidentiality and security, which cannot simply be trusted to AI. AI is not the main constituent when it comes to social responsibility, but merely a tool. The problem then remains of who is the agent responsible.

Business people engaged in translation should be the ones shouldering that responsibility and using AI to improve productivity, and necessary confidentiality. The most important question is how we will use AI to increase translation productivity to boost translation business. This year, I hope to go beyond the former boundaries of machine translation, taking research to the next level as we use AI for the next generation. There are various views in the world when it comes to AI, but I want to push beyond the stereotypes, pursuing the potential of AI and translation.

For all of you translators out there, my hope is that you will be active in your field by using AI, and help contribute to achieve communication in this world of multiple languages.

Once again, we can’t keep our eyes off of the Internet! Let’s be proactive in using YouTube and other communication tools this year.

Looking forward to working with you all!