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The Equaliser

28th October 2019

Successful communication platforms inevitably become commercial battlegrounds. Can multilingual communication help to level the playing field?

Twenty five years ago Tim Berners-Lee, a London-born software engineer, left his job at the CERN Institute in Switzerland to start up the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community devoted to developing open web standards. From a base at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology he built on his earlier work at CERN, developing an information system that allowed documents to be connected with other documents by hypertext links, enabling users to search for information by moving from one document to another. Put simply, he created the World Wide Web. Then, in a remarkable act of philanthropy, he made it freely available with no patent and no claim to royalties.

It’s impossible to discuss equality of opportunity today without referring to online access. Internet activity is a major contributor to social and political change, but in many countries there are no clear guidelines for net neutrality. So we’re increasingly influenced by an all-knowing medium in which the dice may be loaded in ways that we’re not aware of.

Sir Tim Berners Lee (he was knighted in 2004) is among those who’ve called for a new Magna Carta for the 21st century. A bill of rights for internet users, with clear communication and equality of opportunity front and centre. He showed striking generosity in giving the gift of online communication to the world free of charge, but can we expect the world to be as noble in return?

The reality is that successful communication platforms become commercial battlegrounds. What can we do to level the playing field?

Conversis Project Manager Emily Longshaw was born in 1994 and has developed her professional skills in a world of ever-increasing connectivity. While the internet itself may not always be a source of reliable information, Emily believes in the power of multilingual communication:

“Accurate, culturally appropriate translation can open the door to success for organisations of all sizes. At Conversis we help shape the messages of both market-leading plcs and aspiring SMEs, and in all cases we give them a platform to be seen and valued. We can’t control the vast swathes of data that bombard us online every day, but we can help clients control the quality of their message and preserve the integrity of their brand.”  

The world of the linguist has been impacted by technology, of course. Machine translation is becoming more and more sophisticated, and while Emily Longshaw accepts that this will change the role of the language service provider she sees it as an opportunity, not a threat:

“Our job is to deliver what the client needs, and we’re already at a point where that combines human ingenuity with smart use of technology. A client’s translation memory database stores sentences, paragraphs and segments of text that have been translated to their satisfaction. This language memory automatically suggests identical or similar matches in subsequent translations, delivering improved quality and consistency and of course saving the client time and money. We embrace those benefits, so why not embrace the benefits of an automated service that, combined with pre-translation file preparation and post-translation file editing, gives the client precisely what they need? The World Wide Web was created with the intention of using technology to bring people together. That’s still our aim, and it always will be.”

There will always be people who want to load the dice and seize influence for themselves at the expense of others. That isn’t a technology issue; it’s the reality of human nature. But there will always be people whose diligence and professionalism help to even the score too. Happy 25th birthday Emily Longshaw, and happy 25th birthday World Wide Web.


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