如今,机器翻译发展得如火如荼,却鲜有真实的实验数据证明机器翻译到底对各行各业造成了什么样的影响。近日,来自美国国家经济研究局的研究人员率先检验了机器翻译和人工智能对贸易与工业的实质性影响,并发表了论文。他们得出了怎样的结论?欢迎关注本期译事。

A group of researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) have written a working paper entitled “Does Machine Translation Affect International Trade? Evidence from a Large Digital Platform.” The NBER is a private, non-profit organization that performs and disseminates economic research and one of the most influential think tanks on economic policy in the United States.

美国国家经济研究局的一组研究人员写了一篇题为《机器翻译对国际贸易有影响吗?依据大型数字平台论证》的研究手稿(译者注:working paper指还未正式发表的学术论文、书刊篇章或评论)。美国国家经济研究局是一家从事并发布经济研究成果的民间非营利组织,是美国经济政策方面最有影响力的智库之一。

The paper explains that as one of the most significant technological advances today, artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to impact work, trade, and the economy. However, “empirical evidence documenting concrete economic effects of using AI is largely lacking.” The study is one of the first to examine the material impact machine translation (MT), and AI in general, is having on trade and industry.

这篇论文指出,人工智能作为当今一大技术进步,将对工作、贸易和经济产生影响,然而“却鲜有文献用实验证据论证人工智能对经济产生的实际影响”。该研究率先检验了机器翻译和人工智能对贸易与工业的实质性影响。

The paper by Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Xiang Hui, and Meng Liu was published in August 2018. It looks at how eBay’s machine translation engines have affected international trade on the platform. This analysis is used as evidence “of direct causal links between AI adoption and economic activities.”

该文由麻省理工学院斯隆管理学院教授Erik Brynjolfsson以及Xiang Hui和Meng Liu著成,于2018年8月发布。文章研究了eBay(译者注:美国最大的在线商品交易平台之一)的机器翻译引擎对其平台上的国际贸易有何影响。这个分析结果用于论证“人工智能应用和经济活动之间的直接因果联系”。

Consumers Benefit
顾客受益

eBay has developed its own inhouse MT engines (eMT) for multiple language pairings. The study focuses on the English to Spanish eMT, which was introduced in 2014, and looks at its effect on international trade based on US exports.

eBay自主研发了多语配对机器翻译引擎。本文基于美国出口情况,主要研究了2014年引入的英语-西班牙语机器翻译引擎,及其对国际贸易的影响。

According to then eBay Staff MT Language Specialist Juan Rowda in an article he wrote for Slator in November 2016, “human translation is not viable” for the company. He said as of that writing, the company had 800 million listings of around 300 words each. “It would take 1,000 translators 5 years to translate only the 60 million listings eligible for Russia,” Rowda said, contextualizing the problem that eMT was meant to solve.

2016年11月,当时在eBay供职的机器翻译语言专家Juan Rowda投稿给Slator写道eBay“养不活人工翻译”。他说,eBay公司有8亿个商品,每个商品有大概300字描述。“如果雇佣1000个译员,需要5年才能仅仅翻译完给俄罗斯提供的6000万个商品。”Rowda说,机器翻译引擎正是要解决这样的问题。

The NBER paper finds that “the introduction of a machine translation system has significantly increased international trade on this platform, increasing exports by 17.5%.” Although, using a number of different control samples, the results vary from a positive change of between 11.8% and 20.9%.

美国国家经济研究局的研究显示“机器翻译系统的引进极大促进了eBay平台的国际贸易,出口量增加了17.5%”。若使用大量不同的控制样本,该数据结果介于11.8%至20.9%之间。

eMT is having more of an impact on products that are differentiated, cheaper, or contain more words in listing titles, and is particularly effective for less experienced buyers, the study also found. Another interesting finding is that consumers seemed to “benefit from eMT more than sellers do […] because consumers gain both from reduced language frictions and also from lower prices.”

该研究还发现,机器翻译引擎对可区分的、价格更低的或标题中包含更多词汇的产品影响更大,而且对那些缺乏购买经验的买家尤其有效。另一个有趣的发现是,买家似乎比卖家更能从机器翻译引擎中获益,因为它既能帮买家减少语言障碍,又能帮买家找到低价商品。

Language Barriers Have Greatly Hindered Trade
语言障碍极大阻碍了贸易

The results in the research paper are consistent with other recent research, such as that of Johannes Lohmann in 2011 and Alejandro Molnar in 2013, who, according to the paper, “argue that language barriers may be far more trade-hindering than suggested by previous literature.”

该研究论文中的结论与最近几年其它研究得出的结论一致,比如2011年Johannes Lohmann的研究和2013年Alejandro Molnar的研究,后者在论文中写道“语言障碍对贸易的制约可能比之前文献所述更甚。”

eMT is not used for product categories, adverts, or other fixed areas of the webpages, but is specifically applied to searches. Buyers can search in Spanish, and eMT then enables eBay to match the search query to its listing titles, which are stored in English. From here, the eMT translates and displays the listing titles in Spanish, so the Spanish users only ever need to engage with Spanish content.

机器翻译引擎不是用于产品目录、广告或者网页的其他固定区域,而是专用于搜索。买家可以使用西语搜索,然后机器翻译引擎能够使eBay将搜索内容与其以英语存储的商品标题列表进行匹配。接下来,机翻引擎翻译并展示西语的产品标题列表,这样西语用户就只需要浏览西语内容。

eBay’s previous translation solution for searches and item titles relied on Bing Translator, and the proprietary eMT system represents a “moderate quality upgrade”, according to the paper.

论文指出,eBay以前的搜索和商品标题的翻译解决方案依赖于微软必应翻译,而专有的机器翻译引擎系统意味着“质量会有一定程度的提升”。

The researchers also analyzed the impact of eMT in Europe, based on British and Irish exports to France, Italy and Spain, and concluded that “the rollout of eMT in Europe confirms the finding that machine translation increases exports on eBay.”

研究人员还结合英国和爱尔兰对法国、意大利、西班牙的出口情况,分析了机器翻译引擎对欧洲的影响,从而得出结论称机器翻译引擎在欧洲上线运营,证实了机器翻译确实促进了eBay上的出口贸易这一研究结果。

Overcoming language barriers is also high on the agenda for Europe’s efforts to create a Digital Single Market with the European Union investing millions into language technologies.

打破语言障碍同样是欧洲为打造“数字单一市场”所做的一项重要工作,欧盟已经在语言技术上投入了数百万资金。

In 2017, Slator covered a EUR 5.8m contract for automated translation and an additional EUR 2.4m tender for extending the automated translation platform’s services and connecting it with other cross-border and pan-European initiatives.

2017年,Slator网站报道了一项580万欧元(约合人民币4619万元)的自动化翻译合同和一项240万欧元(约合人民币1911万元)的招标,招标内容包括拓展该自动化翻译平台的服务项目,并使之与其他跨国和泛欧举措相关联。

This year, the Human Language Project by the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) is rallying support for a 10-year project worth EUR1bn, while around EUR5m in grant funding has been allocated for low resource language data and MT implementation.

今年,德国人工智能研究中心开展的人类语言工程正在为一个为期10年、价值10亿欧元(约合人民币79.6亿元)的项目争取支持,目前已拨付补贴约500万欧元,用于支持资源匮乏的语言数据项目,落实机器翻译。

In the NEBR paper’s conclusion, the authors note that MT “has made the world significantly smaller and more connected.”

在该论文的结论部分,作者指出机器翻译“明显让世界变小,彼此更加相通。”

Potential for Rapidly Increasing Trade
促进贸易潜在快速增长

Back to eBay. NEBR also found that MT afforded eBay a reduction in translation-related search costs, owing to improved translation quality, which increased search matching accuracy and the quality of titles of listings.

继续以eBay为例。美国国家经济研究局还发现,机器翻译为eBay降低了涉及翻译的搜索成本,因为翻译质量有所改善,进而提高了搜索匹配的精准度和商品标题的译文水平。

Compared to other potential applications of machine learning technology such as self-driving cars for example, the NEBR researchers say machine translation is relatively easier to implement. For this reason, its potential for fueling a rapid increase in trade is particularly significant.

研究人员将机器翻译与机器学习技术的其他潜在应用进行了对比,如自动驾驶汽车。他们表示,机器翻译实施起来相对容易,因此在促进贸易快速增长方面的潜力不容小觑。

The potential is even more pronounced given the sheer scale of ecommerce platforms such as eBay, which the paper notes “mediated more than 14 billion dollars of global trade among more than 200 countries in 2014.”

考虑到eBay等电商平台的规模,这种潜力更为显著。论文称“2014年机器翻译帮助完成了140多亿美元(约合人民币954.5亿元)的全球贸易,涉及200多个国家。”

MT-powered commerce is certainly an interesting subject for companies like Amazon, whose research have prominently featured neural MT and adjacent technologies.

机器翻译助力的贸易自然会引起亚马逊等公司的兴趣。他们的研究大多采用了神经机器翻译和类似技术。

英文来源:Slator

编译:Yee君