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What is AI translation?

Translation using AI is a method that has been offered by online translation applications for some time. It can be useful when it comes to getting a general idea about what something might be trying to say, but unfortunately, this method is well known for being full of inaccuracies.

AI models might understand the basic meaning of individual words, but they often cannot comprehend the language nuances that a professional human translator may have more of a grasp of. This means that a lot can become lost in translation as AI models tend to try and translate things from one language to another far too literally.

Why AI translation can be dangerous

If you are looking for a way to order a beer in a restaurant, then AI translation tools can be a great help. But using these tools to translate important business materials can be risky. Common risks include:

Reputational damage

By getting instructions or labelling wrong, you can do considerable damage to the reputation of your business, as this can make it seem like an amateur outfit. It can also mean that customers are unable to use the items that they have purchased properly, which will only serve to tarnish your reputation further.

Responsibility for harm

It is also important to remember that poor translation can have some serious legal consequences. If a technical error occurs because the instructions were badly translated and this results in injury to a customer, you could find that you are considered to be liable in court (eg under product liability laws) and hefty compensation might need to be paid.

This could also be an issue if allergy and ingredients warnings on food have not been correctly translated. If this leads to allergic reactions to ingredients the consequences can be serious. Whilst there are no guarantees that a human translator will get everything spot on, many translation providers now have insurance to guard against instances such as this, the benefits of which may effectively be passed on to customers via clauses in contracts. Moreover, human translators can take extra care to accurately translate ingredients, particularly those more likely to be dangerous allergens.

Poor translations can lead to poor promotional materials

AI appeals to businesses, because it is an inexpensive method of translation, but poor translation, can often end up costing you more. If brochures or leaflets have mistakes on them, they will need to be reprinted. Instructions on packaging that turn out to be incorrect could lead to the items being recalled and new packaging will need to be produced.

Promotional materials that are written beautifully can lose all of their impact if an AI model does not understand your metaphors, slang terms, or wordplays, which can lead to potential business being lost.

The benefits of a human translator

AI translation methods are not considered to be reliable because a computer will always have limits on what it can understand when it comes to the technical intricacies of language. This is something that only a human being with a fluent understanding of a language can fully grasp.

Humans can not only translate literal meanings, they can also use phrases and descriptions that mean something in the new language in which they are being written. AI can do many things, but it cannot match that.


For more information on the areas of law that businesses using translated language should be aware of, read Product liability, Food labelling, and Advertising regulations. Ask a lawyer if you have any questions.

If you run a business, it is a good idea to adopt a clear AI policy to outline how AI tools can be used in the workplace.

Andrew Schlich
Andrew Schlich
Founder & Managing Director at AST Language Services

Andrew Schlich is the Founder & Managing Director of AST Language Services, who specialise in translation services across 60+ languages.

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