An exploration of language technologies, translation education, practice and politics, ethical market strategies, workflow optimization, resource reviews, controversies, coffee and other topics of possible interest to the language service community and those it serves.
Nov 5, 2014
Translators Without Borders: the ACCEPT project
In 2012, a
grant of 1.8 million euros of EU funds was awarded to the ACCEPT project. The avowed aim of ACCEPT (Automated Community Content Editing PorTal) is to enable “machine
translation for the emerging community content paradigm, allowing citizens
across the EU better access to communities in both commercial and non-profit
environments”. A one-page description of the project is available here.
interests involved are intriguing, and potentially conflicting. The grant-seeking consortium is comprised of academia (the universities of Edinburgh and Geneva), digital media-focused companies (Acrolinx, Symantec and Lexcelera). Managed by Lexcelera, a non-profit translation entity (Translators without Borders, or ‘TwB’) participates in the project as well.The
representatives of Acrolinx (Andrew Bredenkamp) and Lexcelera (Lori Thicke) also
sit on TwB’s board of directors, while Symantec also has TwB linkage (one of
TwB’s advisory board members, Uli Paulin, is a former Symantec employee).
As the sole
non-profit member, Translators without Borders has a long history of providing
pro bono linguistic aid to selected NGOs, including Doctors without Borders (as
the choice of name would suggest). TwB’s projects in Africa have helped
disseminate important healthcare information in previously unsupported (or
outright ignored) languages. There is no argument that this is potentially
life-saving work, and the core reason why the base of the TwB pyramid consists
of thousands of freelance translators who enthusiastically contribute to its
efforts on an entirely unpaid basis.
The apex of
the TwB pyramid is rather less straightforward. Its board of directors and advisory board are primarily composed of major industry players who own or operate
commercial concerns that have a strong and undisguised interest in exploiting machine
translation and the ‘cognitive surplus’ (or unpaid crowdsourcing if you will).
where ACCEPT invites at least some query or scrutiny, because it entails using the
non-profit TwB (advised by Lexcelera) to provide motivated volunteers to improve machine translation. The ACCEPT grant application emphasized an at
least partially altruistic goal, supported by the presence of TwB and its
volunteers. It bears repeating: ACCEPT’s stated purpose is to enable “machine translation for the emerging community content paradigm, allowing
citizens across the EU better access to communities in both commercial
and non-profit environments […]” (our emphasis).
TwB operates on a demonetized basis (apart
from a few specific projects in Africa). Using its unpaid participants in a project
with an admitted commercial motive, funded by and for the EU, appears – at very
least – curious. From a distance, one might ask whether TwB’s name and fame (derived
from the idealistic and unremunerated contributions of donor translators
focused on developing nations) has helped profit-making concerns – Acrolinx,
Lexcelera, Symantec – obtain public monies for developing valuable digital
media translation solutions. The ACCEPT project may yield results that justify
its public funding, but they will be specifically for EU (First World) nations.
TwB and other non-profits would doubtless receive some benefits, but the outcomes
and assets would be ripe for use in prime commercial settings far removed from
developing nations and the motivations of most volunteers.
The first part of this series, which raises questions of possible conflicts of interest, is here. The second part, in which some TWB projects are discussed, is here.