This debate has been on-going for some time: is machine translation a threat or a help to translators? Considering the current development of translation tools, it is legitimate to ask if translators may even be replaced by machines. Global Voices studied this subject.
Nowadays, translation software tools are highly available to translators and translation agencies. In order to provide customers with professional translation services there are important points to consider.
In the case of technical translation, there is no substitute for a human translator’s industry knowledge and experience. The translation software enables you to create specific glossaries and translation memories, gathering technical vocabulary. Global Voices uses SDL Trados, one of the best software tools. But there are drawbacks: it saves a lot of time but only skilled users who know its limits can afford to use it.
What about in other scenarios? In the Lombardy region in Italy, there are plans to use two software tools that would greatly help chemists to deal with tourists and foreign nationals. One tool is for the translation of medicine names (since the medicinal names change depending on the country) and one tool for translating medicinal information into 15 languages. This is an interesting initiative which still has to be approved and checked by specialised translators who are the only ones capable of guaranteeing that medicine names are correct and the instructions are properly translated.
Machine translations also have their drawbacks. The concern with machine is that they do not give consideration to cultural differences. Humans are great at considering this since they are conscious and culturally aware. So to answer the question, and especially if machine might replace translation services, the answer seems pretty obvious. If you want quality translation services that are in-context, localised and sensitive to the culture of your audience, use human linguists.