Tuesday, May 29, 2007

New translation technology to aid U.S. forces

Above: A U.S. soldier and an Iraqi translator talk to a man about his presence at a gravel pit last month near Habbaniyah. The translator keeps his identity secret as a precaution against reprisals towards him or his family.

The room is quiet, save for a few words spoken into the microphone.

“Are you aware of any terrorist activity around here?”

A flat, disembodied voice from a laptop computer immediately repeats the English phrase, and then, just as quickly, repeats the question in Iraqi Arabic.

A live role-player hears it, replies in Arabic, and in just over two seconds, the disembodied voice repeats his answer — in perfect English.

“No, we do not have terrorists, but Kasim knows one of them.”

The system — BBN Technologies’ Foreign Language Conversation Translation Device — represents the wave of the future for troops in foreign lands who don’t have human translators at their sides.

It’s not there yet. Nor are the other four devices being evaluated for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). But the five devices have taken huge leaps toward a point long thought impossible to reach: “free-form, two-way dialogue in tactically relevant environments,” as DARPA puts it.

Read the rest at Defense News