The introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into interpreting presents both unprecedented opportunities and challenges for language access. The Interpreting SAFE-AI Task Force, established in August 2023 by a founding group of prominent figures in the US interpreting sector, embarked on a mission to navigate these complexities. 


Their goal was to advocate for the responsible and ethical use of AI in interpreting, ensuring that the benefits of technology are harnessed while minimizing potential risks. This initiative led to the commissioning of a large-scale perception study by CSA Research, aimed at capturing the current views of end-users; the limited-English speakers, Deaf and Hard of Hearing who rely on interpretation to communicate; and providers of interpreting services and technology towards spoken and signed AI for interpreting, particularly within the U.S. market.


The study, called “Perceptions on Automated Interpreting,” is groundbreaking, offering insights from over 9,400 data points across 118 items related to experiences with automated interpreting solutions, perceptions of quality, pros and cons, decision criteria for using automated interpreting, and suitability for various use cases.


This rich dataset provides a nuanced understanding of the current environment for AI in interpreting, reflecting a broad range of perspectives from different stakeholder groups.


Key Findings From the Study


The study underscores the necessity for all stakeholders involved in language and communication access to collaborate in creating guidelines for safe, ethical, and responsible AI adoption. This collaborative approach aims to maximize the technology's benefits and mitigate its substantial risks.


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Key findings from the study reveal a complex picture of acceptance and skepticism towards AI in interpreting:

  • While some respondents see AI as a promising solution for routine and repetitive conversations, others express concerns about its suitability for more complex, nuanced, and personal interactions. The data highlights a significant divide in opinions on the use of AI when no human interpreter is available, with nearly an equal split between those who prefer automated interpretation to none at all and those who would rather have no interpretation.
  • Ethical considerations play a central role in the discourse, with a majority of respondents agreeing that it is not right to replace people with machines for interpreting. This sentiment is particularly strong among interpreters and service recipients, who often view the shift towards AI with apprehension. The study also explores the financial implications of AI adoption, revealing a widespread belief that automation is primarily pursued as a cost-reduction strategy, despite potential sacrifices in quality.
  • Interestingly, the study sheds light on the variability in acceptance of AI based on who bears the cost of interpreting services. When individuals or organizations are responsible for the cost, the perspectives on the appropriateness of AI use shift, reflecting the complex interplay between financial considerations, quality of service, and ethical standards.
  • The study's findings underscore the importance of transparency and informed consent in the use of AI for interpreting. An overwhelming majority of respondents advocate for clear disclosure when AI is used, emphasizing the need for all parties involved to be aware of and consent to the use of automated solutions.

The Study’s Conclusions

Despite the diverse and often conflicting views presented in the study, there is a consensus on the potential of AI to contribute positively to the field of interpreting under certain conditions.


However, the challenge lies in defining those conditions and ensuring that AI is deployed in a manner that respects the rights, needs, and preferences of all stakeholders. This includes developing and adhering to guidelines that delineate suitable scenarios for AI use, ensuring the technology's reliability, and addressing the ethical and practical concerns raised by the study's participants.


The Interpreting SAFE-AI Task Force's study, therefore, not only highlights the current state of perceptions towards AI in interpreting but also sets the stage for ongoing dialogue and collaboration among stakeholders. It calls for a balanced approach that leverages AI's strengths while safeguarding against its risks, ensuring that the evolution of interpreting services continues to prioritize human dignity, ethical standards, and equitable access to language services.


To download the complete study, please click here


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