According to an article published in New Scientist, artificial intelligence (AI) will have evolved so much in the next years that AI will be able to beat us at everything by 2060. Among other things, it states that machines are predicted to be better than us at translating languages by 2024, writing high-school essays by 2026, driving a truck by 2027, working in retail by 2031, writing a bestselling book by 2049 and surgery by 2053. In fact, all human jobs will be automated within the next 120 years, say respondents.

So, in principle, all translators will be jobless by 2024. I, personally, am a little bit skeptic.

I remember that in 1983, while I was working as a full-time translator at an aerospace company, they brought in all translators to see a demo of Systran, and told us that in a year or so probably we would have to look for a new job. As I was studying Computer Sciences at the university, I laughed out loud (I believe that I was the only one that found it funny). Now, that was 34 years ago, and machine translation is still not yet ready for prime time. True, an impressive progress has been made since the Systran era, but still…

I happen to be an IT guy myself. I am also a translator and write books, so I know what I am talking about. I keep an eye on the progress of Computer Sciences in general and on machine translation in particular, and it takes a lot of credulity to believe that in 7 years the translators will be replaced by AI. Yes, there will be progress, but not to the extent that this article indicates. Knowing the progress of automated driving, I can believe that a computer will be able to drive a truck in 2027, though personally I think that’s a bit optimistic.  But I am *very* skeptic about more creative work.

Yes, machine translation will advance to the extent that translators will be eventually replaced by machine translation. My take is that it is still 20-25 years away, so I would not worry too much. Writing high-school essays by 2026 (in 9 years?) looks ludicrous. Machines have not yet passed the Turing test. This test, basically, consists in that in a question-and-answer game through a terminal, the machine has to convince you at least 1/3 of the times that it is human. It takes a little bit more than that to write an essay (even a high-school one) that can pass as if it has been written by a human. I’d put it 25-30 years in the future. Finally, that a machine in 32 years will be to write a bestseller also stretches a little bit my credulity. I think it will be eventually feasible, but due to the need for a proper plot, apart from proper grammar and conversation, it might take slightly more. My take is that we will not see that before 50-60 years.

Creativity is as of today exclusive to mankind. There are already computer programs that can generate reasonably good music, but music is easier to process by means of algorithms than language, and the machines do not “know” what they are actually creating. With massive computing and huge translation memories, it will be also possible to provide quite accurate translations, though there are subtleties in the language that are likely to be lost in machine translation. Even writing an essay is possible, using massive information sources (like Wikipedia) and paraphrasing the original text. That does not mean that the machine will “understand” what it has written, but, like the current chatbots, might actually get away by pretending it does. I do however not see that until machines start passing the Turing test. Writing a bestseller is more complicated, and it is an exciting programming challenge. It will be eventually done, but I am skeptic about whether the machine will actually “know” what it is doing.

So will machines replace all human jobs in 120 years? Again, I am skeptic. Remember that in the ‘50s they were expecting that we would all have flying cars and moon colonies all over the place? If history is a guide –and it often is-, the AI guys have in the past vastly overrated the progress in artificial intelligence, and the technology has often gone in unexpected directions. Who in the ‘50s or even the early ‘70s would have expected Internet? Nanotechnology?

But the next 120 years look interesting anyhow.

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