Machine translation platform Unbabel has raised $60 million in a series C round of funding led by Point72 Ventures, with participation from Microsoft’s M12, Samsung Next, Greycroft, Scale Venture Partners, Notion Capital, Caixa Capital, Faber Ventures, FundersClub, Structure Capital, Indico Capital Partners, and E.ventures.
Founded out of Lisbon in 2013, Unbabel offers what it calls an “AI-powered, human refined” translation platform that leverages neural machine translation, natural language processing (NLP), and quality estimation to help companies automate their vital translations between dozens of languages. The company can help translate customer emails, live chat exchanges, FAQ pages, and more, through a process that combines the best of machine and human linguists.
While machine translation technology has improved considerably in recent years, humans still play an important role in ensuring the quality of translations, be it through understanding nuances in meaning or parsing overly technical language. That is why the company uses a community of human linguists who, while not necessarily professionally qualified translators, are vetted before acceptance into Unbabel’s program. They then work as part of a loop system that works to refine translations in collaboration with Unbabel’s platform.
“Our community is made up of both professional and non-professional translators,” Unbabel cofounder and CEO Vasco Pedro told VentureBeat. “We can leverage our AI technology to help non-professional translators produce professional-grade translations for the use cases we currently support, which enables us to scale. We strongly believe in this AI-augmented human approach is the best, and probably only option, to tackle the world’s translation needs.”
With big-name clients including Microsoft, Facebook, Booking.com, and easyJet on board, Unbabel said that it’s now translating more than 1 million customer service messages each month, roughly 500% higher than the same period last year.
“This drive has come from businesses that want to expand their global footprint,” Pedro continued. “While they already recognize the need to respond to customer service requests in the language of their customer’s choice, now they can do it at scale. Our AI-human solution is delivering enterprise business translation at scale that opens new use-cases that were nonviable previously when using human only translation, or pure machine translation.”
At its core, Unbabel’s proposition is a service that offers highly scalable translations led by machines, but with the human-grade quality of a native speaker. This fits into a broader narrative that proffers that AI will be more likely to “augment” the human workforce, rather than replace it — in the short term, at least. Gartner estimates that AI augmentation will help to generate 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity by 2021, amounting to a business value of $2.9 trillion.
“We were inspired by Unbabel’s vision to provide enterprise-grade translations at the click of a button and impressed with the human-in-the-loop translation technology they’ve built,” said Point72 Ventures partner Sri Chandrasekar. “We believe that Unbabel is poised to transform the translation industry.”
In addition to its Lisbon HQ, Unbabel claims additional offices in New York, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh, where it opened a new AI lab just a few months back, and it now claims 200 employees across the board.
Unbabel has now raised $91 million since its inception back in 2013, including its $23 million series B round from 2018. The Portuguese company said that it will use its fresh proceeds to “consolidate its footprint” across its existing markets in Europe and the U.S., while it will also lay the foundations for its expansion into Asia.
“Now, we have the opportunity to develop the next generation of the ‘translation-as-a-service’ (TaaS) platform that will power enterprise communications of the future and ultimately become the translation layer of the internet,” Pedro said.