PRIMS Lyon 2020: Confidentiality, ethics & social media

AIIC's Private Market Sector meeting, January 2020 in Lyon

Photo credits: Claudia Ricci

AIIC’s Private Market sector (PRIMS) kicked off the new decade in Lyon, with its first meeting of 2020 hosted by AIIC France at the Château de Montchat. The host region set the scene with a series of workshops and meetings on 23 and 24 January, with sessions on voice training, the Paris Interpreters Practice Sessions (PIPS), career opportunities in the Canadian market, and explanations of AIIC’s processes and categories… plus – bien sûr – a presentation on interpreting the language of wine.


By now, surely, you know what a BarCamp is. PRIMS got into gear on the afternoon of Friday 24 January with participatory presentations and brainstorms on topics proposed and selected by the participants.  

The BarCamp was split into parallel sessions in two rooms, airing the most popular topics selected using Slido. Participants scuttled between the rooms, to learn about, ponder and discuss those things that matter to them.

These included:

  • Handling stress, which can be countered with hydration, exercise, leisure activities, focussed breathing…. But sometimes it can be your friend!
  • Consultant interpreters, who, unlike most agencies, are AIIC interpreters themselves, and work to ensure professional standards. In 2019 they gave AIIC members 13,500 days of work.
  • Suggestions for Netflix binges to unwind at the end of a hard day interpreting - with suggestions for every mood and occasion. Plus they will improve your street cred and vocabulary!
  • Rocketbook – a notebook that combines the simplicity of traditional pen-and-paper with the capacity to store, organise and share them digitally. 
  • Dealing with imposter syndrome – that feeling that you’re woefully unqualified for the job.
  • Providing feedback to colleagues, by developing a feedback culture, and engaging in mentoring.
  • Generating higher fees, by repositioning yourself as a language consultant, and itemizing your services.

Is intelligence in the eye of the beholder?

Artificial intelligence has undoubtedly made enormous gains in recent times, and it is an area that interpreters are watching with interest. Professor Salima Hassas, the AI Programme Director at Lyon’s Université Claude-Bernard, offered her insight into the future of intellectual professions in the era of AI.

AI has been around since the 1940s, but has seen enormous acceleration since the 1990s and 2000s with the emergence of Deep Learning, which relies on previously unimaginable computing power and vast datasets. Thanks to us all obligingly being willing data providers, with our constant connectivity through mobile phones, tablets, computers and other intelligence-gathering devices, the available data accumulates exponentially, feeding AI’s capacity to process and learn. 

A significant area of development has been in visual recognition – notably in the processing and interpreting of medical imaging.  AI can now perform certain visual analyses – such as detailed measurements of the eye – with greater accuracy and speed than human specialists. However, humans who use AI tools in combination with their own analytical skills still achieve the best results. 

Speak to the machine

When it comes to language, Professor Hassas continued, AI has also advanced, although not quite as dramatically. Applications like machine translation, chatbots, voice assistants and speech synthesis are in general use, and are continually improving. 

On the level of basic tasks, AI is already as capable as humans in understanding and responding to straightforward questions. However, in more nuanced situations humans are able to better interpret important paratextual elements – like emotional response or irony, that thwart the machines. These tasks require a degree of empathy: the capacity to imagine oneself in another’s situation, which to-date remains beyond the scope of artificial minds.

She quoted AI expert Kai Fu Lee, who predicts that certain professions – those that are almost entirely based on optimizing information – are vulnerable to being entirely replaced by intelligent machines. Other professions – those that include some empathy alongside optimization – will still require human engagement but increasingly shall involve AI tools. 

Yet those professionals whose work is fundamentally creative and empathetic – and we’d like to think interpreters are in this camp – are not likely to be replaced by AI. For now.   

Ethical perspectives

Saturday morning’s Davos-style roundtable discussion on ethics was chaired by journalist Audrey Pulvar with a panel of expert speakers. Invited guests were welcome at this session, which PRIMS intends to include as a regular feature in its meetings. The plan is to incorporate a roundtable at one of the meetings each year as a way for clients and stakeholders beyond the AIIC community to better understand the profession.

Dr Marco Scalvini, lecturer in communications and ethics at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, spoke about the ethics of confidentiality. Morally ambiguous situations call for an agreed ethical code, and we have a duty to understand ethical and moral issues that affect our profession. Dr Scalvini illustrated his point by posing ethical dilemmas, using Slido to gauge the audience’s views.

He was followed by Ms Gilana Mikhailova, Director of the Centre of International Protocol at the Russian Presidential Academy, who drew parallels between the professional commitment to confidentiality for protocol officials and interpreters. She noted that the ethical obligations of both professions remain the same, irrespective of changes in technology, and gave examples of career-sinking moments of social media indiscretion. 

She also observed that in interactions between protocol officials and interpreters there is the need for instructions in both directions: advising interpreters on appropriate dress and conduct, for example; and advising their clients on the advantages of speaking  in their own language, and to ensure that interpreters are properly provided for.

Florence Agostino-Etchetto, CEO of the healthcare innovation hub LyonBioPole, talked about the ethical considerations of simultaneously developing an industry and serving society. In dealing with major health concerns – such as the current coronavirus crisis – it is essential to collaborate, but confidentiality is vital to maintain trust between potential competitors. 

AIIC President Uroš Peterc brought the discussion back to conference interpreting. Interpreters, he said, act as go-betweens linking different viewpoints, and so occupy an ethically tenuous position by their nature. A code of ethics is important, but so is basic common sense. He quoted AIIC founding member Christopher Thiery, saying “Remember what we’re hired for.” Interpreters are not hired to provide publicity, or to give their opinions, but to facilitate a discussion. In doing so, strict confidentiality is paramount.

Social media

A series of afternoon presentations dealt with interpreting in diplomatic settings and social media (AIIC member Thomas Afton), the psychodynamics of social media (psychotherapist Flandinda Rigamonti) and ethical issues for the MICE industry (events expert Rob Davidson).

Thomas Afton reaffirmed the position that for interpreters working in diplomacy absolute confidentiality is crucial. Even seemingly insignificant details can reveal critical secrets, and journalists are adept at tricking any potential sources into making revelation. Freelancers, he noted, have a professional dilemma when it comes to using social media, as it can be an important tool to raise one’s profile and promote one’s service, but one’s discretion is a major selling point.

Flandinda Rigamonti spoke about the psychological need for recognition and personal connections that social media feeds. Interpreters, she suggested, are deprived of expressing their own voice in their professional life, in which they continually express those of others, and so might be particularly attracted to using social media to express their own personal voice. As a psychotherapist she too has an ethical obligation of confidentiality, and suggested that interpreters could follow her example by splitting their social media activities into pseudonymous personal expressions and a carefully curated professional digital display for clients.   

For the MICE industry (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) there are ethical considerations in the kickbacks, gifts and bribes that are used to incentivise event organisers, Rob Davidson said, as well as requests for proposals whose ideas are then adopted without any credit being given. He suggested some simple questions that one should ask when deliberating any action: Would my colleagues be proud? Would someone be hurt? Is it fair? Would I want this done to me? Would I want this to appear in my local paper?

Back to business

The rest of the day was given to internal reports and discussions – from the Executive Committee, the host region, the PRIMS Standing Committee, the Legal Interpreting Committee,  and Training and Professional Development and Consultant Interpreters Groups. More details on these sessions are available to AIIC members (login required).  

Next stop: Bonn

Closing PRIMS Lyon 2020, the PRIMS Standing Committee thanked the attendees, speakers, host region... and of course the interpreters who volunteered in the booths. They announced the next meeting – to be hosted by AIIC Deutschland in Bonn on 17-19 July. For the next PRIMS Roundtable – at the January 2021 meeting – the Standing Committee asked that members invite clients and other stakeholders to join the discussion, and suggest roundtable topics that will attract them and create appeal for the AIIC private sector community.  

Recommended citation format:
Private Market Sector Standing Committee,Communications officer. "PRIMS Lyon 2020: Confidentiality, ethics & social media". March 5, 2020. Accessed April 8, 2020. <>.

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