The Air Force Is Looking for a Real-Life Star Trek Universal Translator

Thursday, 10 December 2015 - 12:02PM
Science of Sci-Fi
Gadgets
Thursday, 10 December 2015 - 12:02PM
The Air Force Is Looking for a Real-Life Star Trek Universal Translator
In the Star Trek universe, the officers on the Enterprise had access to a useful little gadget called the Universal Translator, which allowed them to communicate in any language known to man (not to mention alien languages). Now, the Air Force is seeking similar technology, as they're officially soliciting "Human Language Technologies" that can effectively translate any language soldiers will need in the field. 

Communicating with local citizens is crucial for military personnel in foreign countries, especially in non-combat situations, but many troops don't have any soldiers who speak the language. Sometimes there are human translators that accompany them, but there are often insufficient numbers of interpreters, or they are unable to accompany soldiers into high-risk areas because the military is unable to guarantee their safety. As a result, the Air Force wants a real-life Universal Translator, or some kind of gadget that will quickly translate any local language that is of interest to the military.
Opening quote
Much of the information needed to effectively understand, anticipate, manage, and operate in the global environment is found in foreign language speech, text, videos, and images; however, there is a critical lack of linguists and automated tools to understand, translate, and to effectively exploit this information. This shortfall is especially common and problematic for lesser spoken languages that have high military interest but lack sufficient linguists and automated language processing capabilities.
Closing quote

There are technologies similar to Google Translate that approximate this ability somewhat, but they're limited to relatively prevalent languages, and they're extremely rough translations, to the point that they may not be very useful in military situations.

According to the solicitation, the Air Force is looking for research into automatic speech recognition, information extraction and retrieval, text-to-speech synthesis, and other language processing capabilities. They're offering up to $10 million for five years of development and acquisition, so it's probably safe to say they'll find willing scientists very soon.

Via Popular Science.
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