Translators Without Borders: the Accept Project
Source: Translation TribulationsKEVIN LOSSNER’S QUIRKY EXPLORATION OF TRANSLATION TECHNOLOGIES, MARKETING STRATEGIES, WORKFLOW OPTIMIZATION, RESOURCE REVIEWS, CONTROVERSIES, COFFEE AND OTHER TOPICS OF POSSIBLE INTEREST TO TRANSLATORS, LANGUAGE SERVICE PROVIDERS AND LANGUAGE SERVICE CONSUMERS.
In 2012, a grant of 1.8 million euros of EU funds was awarded to the ACCEPT project. The avowed aim of ACCEPT (Automated Community Content Editing PorTal) is to enable “machine translation for the emerging community content paradigm, allowing citizens across the EU better access to communities in both commercial and non-profit environments”. A one-page description of the project is available here.
The diverse interests involved are intriguing, and potentially conflicting. The grant-seeking consortium is comprised of academia (the universities of Edinburgh and Geneva), digital media-focused companies (Acrolinx, Symantec and Lexcelera). Managed by Lexcelera, a non-profit translation entity (Translators without Borders, or ‘TwB’) participates in the project as well. The representatives of Acrolinx (Andrew Bredenkamp) and Lexcelera (Lori Thicke) also sit on TwB’s board of directors, while Symantec also has TwB linkage (one of TwB’s advisory board members, Uli Paulin, is a former Symantec employee).
As the sole non-profit member, Translators without Borders has a long history of providing pro bono linguistic aid to selected NGOs, including Doctors without Borders (as the choice of name would suggest). TwB’s projects in Africa have helped disseminate important healthcare information in previously unsupported (or outright ignored) languages. There is no argument that this is potentially life-saving work, and the core reason why the base of the TwB pyramid consists of thousands of freelance translators who enthusiastically contribute to its efforts on an entirely unpaid basis.
The apex of the TwB pyramid is rather less straightforward. Its board of directors and advisory board are primarily composed of major industry players who own or operate commercial concerns that have a strong and undisguised interest in exploiting machine translation and the ‘cognitive surplus’ (or unpaid crowdsourcing if you will).
This is where ACCEPT invites at least some query or scrutiny, because it entails using the non-profit TwB (advised by Lexcelera) to provide motivated volunteers to improve machine translation. The ACCEPT grant application emphasized an at least partially altruistic goal, supported by the presence of TwB and its volunteers. It bears repeating: ACCEPT’s stated purpose is to enable“machine translation for the emerging community content paradigm, allowing citizens across the EU better access to communities in both commercial and non-profit environments […]” (our emphasis).
TwB operates on a demonetized basis (apart from a few specific projects in Africa). Using its unpaid participants in a project with an admitted commercial motive, funded by and for the EU, appears – at very least – curious. From a distance, one might ask whether TwB’s name and fame (derived from the idealistic and unremunerated contributions of donor translators focused on developing nations) has helped profit-making concerns – Acrolinx, Lexcelera, Symantec – obtain public monies for developing valuable digital media translation solutions. The ACCEPT project may yield results that justify its public funding, but they will be specifically for EU (First World) nations. TwB and other non-profits would doubtless receive some benefits, but the outcomes and assets would be ripe for use in prime commercial settings far removed from developing nations and the motivations of most volunteers.
The first part of this series, which raises questions of possible conflicts of interest, is here.
The second part, in which some TWB projects are discussed, is here.