Claudia Johnson Guest Blogs on Machine Translation—First in Medicine, then in Law?

Thanks again to Claudie Johnson for her latest post:

Many of us who track technology innovations get very excited about the possibilities that open up when we hear or read that that machine translation tools are becoming more and more common. In the health care field, the understanding  of translation/interpretation  as a required part of quality patient are is more advanced than it is in the legal realm.

I came across this translation tool in the medical field called “MediBabble”. When looking into it, I came across this article by two medical interpreters that provides some insight from that perspective and that we should keep handy if and when a similar tool is announced in the legal realm.;jsessionid=315862D9068E35D1144F42591D2B1ADD.mc0?sitePageId=50909

I have been asked many times the question about a court system or a public webpage that is read by large groups of people if that could be cheaply and easily be translated using some sort of free online machine translation tools.  As I told my friend who recently asked me about using a free machine translation (MT) tool to translate a webpage: “ if you are using the cheap/free/easy online tool when you travel abroad to read the signs or webpages, it is up to you  if you get the wrong info. Only you and your  kids will have to deal with the consequences. You are free to take risks for yourself and your family. But when you are using it in a way that could affect fundamental rights of full communities, thread w/caution, you are taking a big leap and assuming a lots of risks on behalf of very vulnerable and disenfranchised communities. Be aware of that.”

In 2009, I co-authored an article tackling this same issue for the legal services realm.

I don’t think the world has changed much in this realm since 2009. MT tools are moving to handheld devices, and new cool widgets, but the core is not progressing as fast as we hope or wish for. MT has been around for a long time, yet it is results are  not yet ready to fully replace a trained translator.  The best approach to incorporating MT in the legal non-profit realm, is  a presentation that  Dennis Rios from ILAO did on a TIG grant where they are merging machine translation with his many years of education and training as a translator. In other words, they use MT and a very competent human, trained both as an interpreter, translator, attorney, to expedite the creation of online content in Spanish. MT does not replace the professional translator, rather the translator enhances what the MT produces, edits, refines, makes it better for the target audience. Another part of the equation here is that they have a very good and robust content management tool .

Has anyone else seen or come across any good machine translation/human translation projects in the access to justice context that they may want to share?  I am a big fan of the TED translation project as a collaborative approach to translation. Any courts looking to replicate or create collaborative translation models out there?

Please chime in!


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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2 Responses to Claudia Johnson Guest Blogs on Machine Translation—First in Medicine, then in Law?

  1. Pingback: Innovation Ideas Based on SJI Priority Investment Areas | Richard Zorza's Access to Justice Blog

  2. Sarah Hayman says:

    Hi Richard,
    The Tennessee Bar Association, the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and the law firm of Baker Donelson are currently in the exploratory phase of translating our online advice and counsel website,, into Spanish. I’ll update you on our process/lessons learned once we get a bit further along.

    Thanks for your blog. I enjoy learning from you!

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