IBM Donates Speech Translation Technology to Foster Better Communication and Humanitarian Efforts in Iraq
IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced a humanitarian donation to the United States government of innovative speech translation technology to support better communication in Iraq. The intent of the donation is to help augment human translators and improve the safety of U.S. and coalition personnel, citizens and staff of nongovernmental aid organizations (NGOs).
Specifically, IBM will provide 1,000 two-way automatic translation devices and 10,000 copies of the software for future use. The systems can recognize and translate a vocabulary of over 50,000 English and 100,000 Iraqi Arabic words, and are designed for civil application environments such as hospitals and training.
In a letter to President George W. Bush outlining the contribution, IBM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Samuel J. Palmisano stated, “IBM employees returning from service with the U.S. military in Iraq have consistently emphasized two points: the importance of communicating with the Iraqi people and the operational challenges posed by the need to do so. Although in many instances human translators are essential, we also believe that there are technological solutions to help mitigate the problem.”
The IBM systems are advanced, two-way “speech-to-speech” translators – code-named MASTOR (for Multilingual Automatic Speech Translator) – that improve communication between English and Iraqi Arabic speakers. The lack of understanding of Iraqi Arabic is a major concern among military personnel, their families, and civilians in Iraq. The issue was recently addressed in the Iraqi Study Group report, which highlighted the importance of better communication and recommended this issue be given the highest possible priority. According to the report, of 1,000 U.S. Embassy workers, only 33 are Arabic speakers, and only six are at the level of fluency. Another concern is the safety of those providing translation services and protecting translators in conflict settings.
“The government sincerely appreciates IBM’s efforts in offering this donation,” said Admiral Edmund Giambastiani, Vice Chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff. “This type of technology can help to improve communication for U.S. and coalition personnel with Iraqi citizens and aid organizations serving in Iraq.”
There are fewer than 20 commercial translation systems currently available globally. Yet the need for cross-language communication has never been more urgent. A secondary goal of IBM’s contribution is to encourage other private sector organizations to speed their translation development and deployment, advance collaboration among this community of innovators, and prompt additional companies to extend their resources for similar humanitarian missions.
U.S. Department of Defense units are currently using a variety of automated translation techniques on a limited basis to communicate effectively with speakers of different languages in real-world tactical situations where human interpreters are scarce. In October 2006, IBM delivered a preliminary product with force protection and civil affairs language domains to U.S. Joint Forces Command for field testing in restricted environments.
Development of the MASTOR technology began in 2001 at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research center and gained development support as part of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA’s) Spoken Language Communication and Translation System for Tactical Use (TRANSTAC) program. The technology allows users to converse naturally, producing audible and text translations of the spoken words that can run on a variety of devices such as PDA, tablet PC or laptop computer. In addition to Iraqi Arabic, the technology is available in Mandarin Chinese, and IBM is currently extending the technology to additional languages.
IBM has a long history of providing technology and services to aid humanitarian relief efforts including Hurricane Katrina, the Southeast Asia tsunami, the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks, and the Pakistan earthquake in 2005. The IBM Global Crisis Response Team also has provided support to governments around the world in managing the relief efforts and multiple resource teams by deploying IT based solutions.
A conversation with David Nahamoo, IBM researcher and chief speech technologist, regarding the donation and the promise of translation capabilities, is available via audio podcast by visiting: www.thenewsmarket.com/IBM
Members of the press may download digital video and audio files by visiting: www.thenewsmarket.com/IBM.
For more information about IBM, please visit www.ibm.com.
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