E.g., 07/14/2020
E.g., 07/14/2020

Using “What If?” As A Language Industry Tool 

By: Jim Compton, Manager of Technology Parternships - RWS Moravia

16 May 2019

At GALA 2019 Munich I had the privilege of hosting a panel (game show?) session called “What If? The Humans and Technology Edition.” I assembled a super-hero team of four interesting, diverse (and dare I say opinionated) folks from the language industry and asked them to play the “What If?” Game in front of a live audience. I believe that it was a successful experiment. (If you’re a GALA member you can watch a recording of the session for free here.)  

Hélène Pielmeier from CSA Research addressed the pros, cons, and likely realities around the question, “What if LSPs required each employee and executive to have experience as a freelance translator?”   

Pedro Gomez from Microsoft News challenged the audience to his own meta game show around the question, “What if Chinese emerges as the next lingua franca?”  

Balázs Kis, co-founder of memoQ, took us inside the head of language theorist Roman Jakobson to explore the (far-out?) premise, “what if you were implanted with a chip at birth that enabled you to understand any language?”  

And Sarah Presch, managing director of Retro Digital brought some data to the table to address the not-that-far-fetched question, “what if it was mandated that every company over a certain size localized their offerings into the country’s top 3 languages?”  

It was a great contribution from all panelists. We also had great participation from the audience who were invited to play the “What If?” Game too.  

The Audience Game  

The rules were simple. Everyone had just a few minutes to write their own “what if?” question—having to do with the “Humans and Technology” theme of the conference—on a slip of paper, then distribute to someone else in the room. The recipients of the question were then invited to submit their own responses online. Here are a few examples:  

What if?  

People could see behind the AI/NMT hype?  


As an industry we would have a better chance of influencing customers and policy makers. Too much hype about AI/NMT and we ourselves are guilty of it.   

Bill Rivers

What if?  

What if you could pay for the ability to be fluent in any language instantaneously. Different languages have different values - what would happen? Who would pay for what and why?  


On the social level, rich people will always be able to speak the most expensive languages, while non-rich people will be able only to buy cheap ones. It could be a measurement of social status as well. On the professional level, I think it might make the industry more challenging as it will require lots of efforts to differentiate yourself in the market. On the cultural level, it will be easier to spread the culture and heritage of one language to speakers of another. This will help increase the mutual and multilateral understanding among peoples and cultures.  

Osama Hussein

What if?  

MT becomes perfect and you don't need post-editing anymore?  


We have fully sentient AI that can translate among many other things. In other words, AI singularity happened, and we are living together with AI entities with full sentience and volition. Still in other words, AI entities are active members of our society, and may be fighting for their recognition as persons.   

Balázs Kis    

What if?  

What if AI eliminated all the manual and repetitive tasks in our jobs and we had lots of available time in our roles? What would we do with that time?  


Then we could think properly about where we can add value to the end users of localized content and globalization, to the customers, to our peers. We would have the head space to be curious and ask questions that will drive ourselves and everyone around us forward.  

María Jesús de Arriba Díaz  

Thanks to everyone who played, and congratulations to those who won a “What If?” themed ebook!  

Let’s Keep Playing!  

I would assert that both provocative questions and games can be powerful business tools. “What if?” questions in particular have a power to engage our brains to consider possibilities we wouldn’t explore otherwise, and games take the pressure off by giving us permission to play and experiment. I believe that it’s from this state of relaxed, playful inquiry where all the best ideas are born.  

Some evidence in support:  

I’m impressed from the ideas we’ve been able to generate so far by applying the What If? game within our industry and would propose that we keep using it!  

Jim Compton

Jim Compton is a localization industry veteran, technologist, and optimist interested in the application of technology toward big-picture globalization challenges. As part of RWS Moravia’s Technology Partnerships team, Jim seeks out capabilities that can be leveraged into customer solutions. In his spare time, he likes to make rock music on the Commodore 64.