Air Force wants to build a universal translator

The Air Force Research Laboratory Information Directorate has awarded a $1 million, two-year contract to two Washington companies to develop language translation technology.

StreamSage Inc., the prime contractor, creates tools to manage digital audio and video content and will handle technology development. Global Management Systems Inc. will handle implementation.

A universal translator is the Holy Grail of machine translation, but current state-of-the-art in translating the spoken word is limited to small collections of words and phrases'a sort of automated phrase dictionary. The Air Force wants to expand that capability to ease the burden on human translators in the military and intelligence communities.

Rather than a rules-based approach, which uses a dictionary and grammar to translate between two languages, StreamSage is opting for an Interlingua approach, which uses statistical comparisons of parallel documents in different languages, much like the Rosetta stone.

'To do efficient statistical translation you have to have millions of parallel documents,' said StreamSage president Seth Murray.

'There are not any good metrics now' for gauging the accuracy of speech translation, Murray said. Developing benchmarks will be one of the goals of the program.

At the end of two years, the Air Force hopes to have a system that would not put any translators out of work, but could help in monitoring conversations. The system would be able to flag certain words or topics to indicate that a particular conversation should be given more attention.

Link to StreamSage announcement (PDF)


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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