Language, the new frontier? If you ask people in the street they might shake their heads. That’s because language comes so natural to us humans. Also, many believe Google Translate has fixed it. Most of our European decision makers tend to think so as well. They could or should know better.
Take the celebrated Digital Single Market. Cross-border e-commerce is minuscule. In this key growth market Europe is totally fragmented by country. The Commission has identified several barriers: Data Protection, VAT, shipment costs. All important, but each of them could be solved at a green table. The Council would only need to withstand lobbyists and pass the regulation proposed by European Parliament. The Commission would need to retract the VAT mess it created itself a while ago. Overprized shipments are, like before the insane roaming fees, a result of privatized monopolies that need to be resolved the same way. A much tougher barrier to cross-border e-commerce, though, is Europe’s multilingualism. A frontier only few dare to cross.
We hit the language frontier also in E-Government. Countries have grown together. Citizens have benefitted from this to a degree, that today we take most achievements for granted: easy travel, inexpensive foreign goods, or studying and working abroad. But the EU has often made the second step before the first one. We have introduced a common currency without making our banking interoperable. We have removed border controls although our social and security systems hardly interact. Cross-border Interoperability is difficult and requires much more than translation. Particular translations made by machines can only play a supporting role in a more elaborate solution.
Also Business is leaving the vast land behind that frontier to some brave enterprises. Only slowly CEOs begin really to understand how Social Media has changed the playing field. Most still think that it’s good enough to speak the customer’s language. Localize the company’s content and broadcast it, like it’s been done for decades, if not centuries. The future winners, though, realize that they also must understand what their customers talk about on all these new channels; of course in their mother tongues.
And finally Technology. Artificial Intelligence will change everything. Some skeptics even think it’s our last invention. In any case, we are not going to type commands into robots or self-driving cars. We will talk to AI. Language will be the UI. Also, as it has been dramatically shown by the human defeat in Go, knowledge driven learning is the key to AI. Most of our knowledge is stored in textual form, i.e. language.
So, yes, language is the new frontier. It’s bizarre that Europe is not fully behind this. Action is required by business and the public sector. Otherwise we will have to license also this key technology from the usual suppliers.
This is a slightly modified version of the editorial in the brochure to the 2016 LT Industry Summit by LT Innovate’s Chairman and CEO Jochen Hummel.