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letheomaniac
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Military developing "universal translator" app
« on: 2010-08-03 02:48:35 »
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[letheomaniac] Klingon? There's an app for that!

Source: Tech New Daily
Author: Adam Hadhazy
Dated: 2/8/10

Military Developing 'Universal Translator' on Smartphones

The United States government recently announced progress in a years-long effort to create a Star Trek-like "universal translator" device.

The developing technology – which runs on a smartphone – could soon enable the military to communicate with non-English speakers in lieu or even in place of a human translator.

The new tests were conducted by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) as part of a program spearheaded by the military's R&D wing DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).

They involved native speakers of Pashto, a dialect in Afghanistan, responding to greetings, directives for vehicle searches and other common communiqués issued in English by U.S. marines.

Soldiers in Afghanistan, Iraq and other foreign engagements are often sorely in need of trustworthy translators. The TRANSTAC (spoken language communication and TRANSlation system for TACtical use) program aims to fill this gap with always-available, voice-recognition technologies.

During the tests, a smartphone – a Google Nexus One, in some cases – loaded with the TRANSTAC program was held up near speakers' mouths. Speech-to-text software distinguished the spoken words and created a text file, naturally, which was then translated to the target language, as NIST explained in a statement.

Within seconds, this freshly translated text file was "said aloud" by the smartphone's audio components in a pre-programmed voice understandable to the non-English speaker. This process is simply reversed for the foreign language speaker's reply.

Three different real-time, two-way translation systems were evaluated in the NIST tests. Besides Pashto, the Afghani dialect of Dari and Iraqi Arabic are also candidates for machine-guided translation.

Now four years in, the TRANSTAC program remains well short of the "universal translator" instrument espoused in the science fiction franchise Star Trek. The fantastical technology allows English-speaking Enterprise crewmembers to instantly converse with aliens, a handy gizmo for those seeking out new life and new civilizations in episodes airing for less than an hour.

NIST, in light of the parallel, included Trek references in a video produced about the steps forward with the TRANSTAC program. The government's hope is that such a profound tool for breaking down the language barrier – especially in tense, life-or-death war zone situations – will not take another 250 years to become a reality.
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Re:Military developing "universal translator" app
« Reply #1 on: 2010-08-03 21:56:23 »
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Reminds me of the Babelfish from the Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy. I wonder if a better solution might lie in better employing remote human translators much like we employ remote pilots for drone airplanes. In theory it could even be a just a remote audio connection, although I think it might be good to have some video for the translator so they can better understand visual referents in a particular situation. In such a manner we could make efficient use of fewer translators for more situations without putting them in harm's way in a military theater.
« Last Edit: 2010-08-03 21:57:55 by MoEnzyme » Report to moderator   Logged

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