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Our November 2019 Event. Ashley Mikkola: Robots vs Linguists – A battle of successes

This time, we gathered for Ashley Mikkola’s talk titled Robots vs Linguists – A battle of successes, and discussed the similarities between natural and programming languages and the people who understand them. The goal was to allow the audience to take a look at some of the current industry trends helping us to envision the next generation of robot linguists. 

Ashley Mikkola started with a provocative question: Are robots stealing our jobs? Should we be afraid of them? That really kicked the evening off as the audience started a lively discussion and debate.

Ashley went on to say that our skills are actually not encompassed in our jobs, and asked us to think about why we became linguists.

People are deeper than their job titles.

She described that we linguists are interested in nuances, are very detail oriented, that we like decoding messages. As we foster communication over borders, we are also naturally very collaborative, and we are genuinely interested in other humans. These are all skills that robots don’t really have.

Programmers are actually very similar to linguists in this sense, according to Ashley. She explained what prompted her to become a programmer, and how she can use these skills in her new-found career. She busted the myth that you need to be good at math in order to be good at programming.

Ashley finished her talk by saying that the nature of our jobs will likely change, as more and more jobs are appearing in tech, and that this wonderful skillset that we have should really be cherished.

Her talk kickstarted a lively discussion that went on for quite a while over a few drinks, and we touched upon all things AI in the translation industry, ethics, online teaching, cultural differences, how AI is actually changing the way we use language and loads more. One audience member explained how they use Alexa at home and noticed that her son uses ‘please’ less often and his requests are becoming increasingly short and direct.

After the discussion, everyone had a chance to introduce themselves in 30 seconds and we continued the conversation well until 9.30-ish. It was another great night spent in the company of all sorts of linguists and languageprofessionals.

Thank you to everyone who came and joined in the discussion, see you again soon.


About the speaker:

Ashley Laurel Mikkola is originally from the USA. She holds a BA in International Political Economy with a minor in German, and an MA in Translation Studies, In addition to this, over the past few years she went on to complete a bouquet of part-time coding bootcamps. This year, she altruistically donated her kidney to the NHS and is always on the look out for ways to advance or improve the human condition. 

She intends on using her new-found fluency in programming languages to improve communication across human languages and man-made borders. She has lived in Germany on and off since 2010 and moved to the UK in 2015 where she continues to live today. 

Recently she has been endorsed and recognised as holding Exceptional Promise in the field of Natural Language Processing. 

In her spare time, Ashley also regularly plays cornet for her local brass band and is the proud guardian of what is, in her eyes, the brightest little mischief in central Farnham.

Feel free to reach out to Ashley, her personal site contains all her contact details, she’ll be pleased to connect with you.

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