The New Technology That Could Turn Small Businesses Into Global Businesses


Money speaks, and soon it will be easier to understand.

Language barriers can hamper international trade, but this problem is increasingly solved by machine translation programs, which are becoming sophisticated enough to allow people from different countries to communicate as if they speak the same language.

Lily Chen, Sales Manager of Taixing Jichuan Hydraulic Machinery Co. Ltd. electronic forklift company. in China, said it had used BABA from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.
built-in translation tools to communicate with buyers in Europe and the United States In an interview with MarketWatch using the technology, she explained that her English was “not very good” when she started as a salesperson and that the translation software first helped her conduct professional communications with a client in Germany and later with other buyers.

“I was a little nervous at first, but from the client’s response, the client fully understood the meaning of the translation, which made me feel very confident,” Chen said. She felt that the software was able to handle “the professional vocabulary of electric forklifts”, including fork width, loading capacity and after-sales service.

Translation programs are not yet followed specifically by economists, but they have the potential to boost international trade, which amounted to $ 19.5 trillion last year according to World Trade Organization estimates.

The international expansion of e-commerce

A great opportunity exists in e-commerce, where online shopping giants are already starting to integrate translation technology into their businesses. Take eBay Inc. EBAY,
the online marketplace based in San Jose, Calif., which quickly learned that while the internet made it easier for buyers and sellers to connect, international expansion wouldn’t be particularly effective if buyers weren’t able to understand the lists of products from abroad.

The result is a system that allows buyers to search in their language of choice and receive translated product listings, while taking into account the context of a customer’s request. The machine translation has to be smart enough to adjust its behavior depending on whether someone is looking for a Galaxy Note 10 smartphone or a galaxy print sweatshirt, for example, because the branded product does not need to be returned in a other language.

“Anything that supports cross-border commerce so that someone outside of the United States is able to engage in e-commerce is where the power of global commerce lies,” said Sanjeev Katariya, vice -President of eBay which focuses on artificial intelligence.

According to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, EBay’s push for machine translation has helped the company increase its Latin American exports by nearly 20%, and illustrates the potential for increased business activity as that translation technologies are increasingly adopted in businesses.

“By integrating translation tools, you encourage the most critical thing in business: trust. ”

– John Caplan of Alibaba

The positive impact of translation is linked to the theory of the “gravity” of trade, explains MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson, as trade between countries usually depends on their geographic proximity. “You can reduce the cost of transportation and make the world smaller by 20% or you can introduce translation and have the same effect,” he said in an interview.

Machine translation vs human translation

The stakes are high for retailers as e-commerce goes global. In order to be accessible where 90% of global online spending is made, companies need to offer support for the 15 most economically-beneficial languages ​​on their sites, according to Donald DePalma, director of research at CSA, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Research. Just four years ago, they would have needed only 11 languages. To reach even more consumers (99% of the online market), support for 56 languages ​​is now required.

Still, many sites offer support for much less. CSA looked at some 2,800 of the world’s busiest sites and found that only 63% were multilingual. These included support for 7.8 languages, on average, in addition to the primary language.

There is a significant gap between the average number of languages ​​supported and the set of those of economic interest to businesses. “Machine translation gives businesses a way to reach more people,” DePalma said. This is especially true in cases where companies want to use human translation for the most critical parts of their sites, but rely on computers to handle the rest.

CSA research could not determine how many of the largest sites have integrated machine translation rather than human translation into their customer presence, and in general, it can be difficult to determine how many companies use technology because of the different ways it is incorporated into businesses.

Benefits for small businesses

While eBay has been among the online retailers that have offered machine translation for several years, a nascent opportunity exists in business-to-business e-commerce, a market that the U.S. government estimates could be six times larger than that for retailers. consumers. merchant market. Here, technology has the potential to enable professional conversations that were once nearly impossible due to language barriers. While large companies can afford to hire human translators if they wish to work with a foreign partner, small businesses don’t always have this luxury.

The cornerstone of Alibaba’s business platform is a real-time translation tool that enables small businesses to communicate with suppliers overseas. Some 100,000 shoppers exchange a total of 2 billion translated text messages each week on the global commerce platform, and the company plans to introduce live video chat translations later this year.

The idea behind Alibaba’s offering is that small businesses are reluctant to seek suppliers globally due to language barriers, but can be open to international trade if they can communicate effectively.

Translation technology allows businesses “to operate like multinational corporations, but to do so wherever they are,” said John Caplan, head of B2B operations for Alibaba in North America. “By incorporating translation tools, you foster the most critical thing in business, which is trust, because if you can understand who you are dealing with and communicate clearly, you can both make informed decisions. ”

Virtual lingua franca for gamers

For gamers, it’s easy enough to find people halfway around the world willing to play anytime, but communication issues have long confined gamers to what Microsoft MSFT,
+ 2.68%
Distinguished engineer Arul Menezes calls it “linguistic zones”. His company’s Translator product is now integrated with the game chat functionality of Machine Zone, a developer based in Palo Alto, California.

“If you were a Polish player you could go online and there might not be other Polish players there,” Menezes said. “It basically globalized their product. “

Microsoft is also integrating Translator into its core offerings, so speakers can give a PowerPoint presentation during a conference and allow people in the room who speak other languages ​​to follow the written translations on their own devices. Technology opens up the content of a presentation to people who would not normally have been able to understand it.

Airbnb automatically translates communications between guests and hosts prior to arrival, so recent college graduate Julia Peña was surprised to walk into her rental outside of Los Angeles to find her host was not speaking no English. While Julia was there, however, the host used a “chat” feature on Google Translate GOOG,
+ 2.95%

+ 2.87%
to ask Peña about her day and even offer to prepare her breakfast before a big job interview.

“It was definitely more comfortable being able to talk to each other,” Peña said of Google’s chat feature, which allows both parties to speak on their mobile devices in their own language and hear translated versions of it. that the other said.

“A huge demand”

While natural language processing may never be able to capture the nuances and culture of a specific place, Brynjolfsson of MIT said it’s easy to imagine a world in which we speak as we speak. normally, only with small headphones that render the words in another language. . A first attempt to achieve this end goal comes from Chinese mobile game company Cheetah Mobile Inc. CMCM,
+ 6.25%
, which uses Microsoft Translator in a small, portable device intended to help tourists purchase items when traveling abroad.

“Chinese travelers are one of the largest groups of international travelers, but when they travel abroad very few people speak Chinese,” said Menezes, founder of Microsoft Translator. “There is a huge demand for this type of technology.

In general, online habits tend to lead to offline habits, according to Brynjolfsson, so the future of machine translation promises more applications in the physical world for technology.

As machine translation gets smarter and smarter, many consumers still have memories of the humorous and incorrect outputs they got from Google Translate and other programs while trying to email or complete. Homeworks. In order for businesses and customers to trust technology in a commercial setting, users need to feel more secure about the results because their money is on the line.

“The forgiveness factor decreases in monetary transactions,” eBay’s Katariya said. Buyers who buy the wrong product because the description got lost in the translation can abandon a retailer forever.

But Microsoft’s Menezes believes machine translation is approaching a point where it will be indistinguishable from human translation. He said the company’s research product, a more academic version of its translation system, is already “on par” with the production of human translators. Microsoft is working to evolve this search technology so that it is suitable for consumer and business use cases.

“You know you’ve been really successful when a technology goes invisible and goes into the background,” he said. “We’re on the cusp of the point where people take translation for granted because it works. “


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