Documenting the Coming Singularity

Friday, August 10, 2007

Instantaneous Speech-to-Speech Translation: Thank You DARPA

In the New Testament there is a story about certain men who spoke in languages they had never learned, and crowds of listeners who heard these men speaking their own languages. As it happens, this tale may soon take place in reality, not through the working of a supernatural being, but through technology now under development by DARPA.

Necessity gives birth to invention, and translators are sorely needed in Iraq. For one reason or another, there aren't enough humans to do the job. So DARPA and NIST have been hard at work on this and are currently testing prototypes. This is not a "could" situation. This is the real thing.
Darpa and NIST are focused on bidirectional translations of English and Arabic spoken in Iraq. NIST, U.S. Marines, and Iraqi Arabic speakers just completed lab and outdoor tests on prototypes in Gaithersburg, Md. The evaluations included controlled background noise from speakers, generators, garage doors, running vehicles, and radio broadcasts to mimic noise in real-world situations.

Participants acted out 10 scenarios, including conversations at traffic checkpoints and neighborhood interviews. Those testing the devices carried them in back packs and other hands-free configurations. Lab participants couldn't see their laptop screens as they recorded the conversations. Iraqis who understand English wore earphones that blocked out the English language portions and relayed the system's Arabic interpretations.

Craig Schlenoff, project leader of the NIST evaluation project, said the evaluations showed improvements to the translation systems and provide information about which technologies are most promising.

"Effective two-way translation devices would represent a major advance in field translators," he said in a prepared statement. "Although American forces in Iraq currently have the use of phrase-based translators, the devices can only translate English into pre-recorded Arabic phrases. They cannot translate Iraqi Arabic into English."

Darpa hopes to eventually provide American forces with palm-sized translators for increased convenience, ease, and safety in war zones and potentially hostile environments. Darpa also wants to position itself to develop automatic translator systems within 90 days of receiving a request for that language.
Obviously, as these "palm-sized translators" come online, there will be an enormous market for them, which will drive further R&D. It will be a better world when we can all understand each other and undo what God allegedly perpetrated on us at Babel.

Source: InformationWeek

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