When we were kids and watched futuristic movies in which machines took over the world, turning those same humans who had created them into some kind of slaves, our parents would comfort us by clarifying that it was only fiction and that nothing like that could ever happen.
But who does not remember those robots every time we read a translation made by an automatic translator?
A machine receives the information, processes it through a programmed language and completes the circuit by producing a result. There are no interpretations in this process, nor sensations or thoughts. They produce just inputs and outputs that can turn our texts into impersonal lines —and even with syntactic, grammatical and semantic errors— producing differences that can change completely the meaning and the intention of what we are trying to say.
By contrast, professional translations —made by humans who think, feel, and perceive— provide our texts humanity and common sense.
Bear in mind that a translation is not a replica of a text in two languages, but the faithful interpretation of content in two different cultures. For this to happen, professional translators do not only translate words and phrases but also ideas, intentions, and tones of communication.
What are the main disadvantages of automatic translators compared to professional translators?
They analyze and translate words as independent segments and not as parts of a complete text. Outcome: some words that might be replaced by synonyms are repeated. Phrases that might be part of a same idea fail to sound natural in the text and seem rough due to being isolated. They do not recognize idiomatic expressions or regionalisms. They lack specific terminologies like those associated, for instance, with legal or financial language. The use of automatic spellcheckers brings about the risk of making communication harder and making congruence and tone mistakes. We do not want the machines of the movies we used to watch when we were children to take over our texts. No one wants to feel like reading a dictionary when reading a translation. That is why today, in spite of technology advances, the professional translator, who also works online, is still the best option for a translation to be faithful to the original.