Thursday, June 12, 2003

Wired News: Pick a Language, Any Language
02:00 AM Jun. 07, 2003 PT

Like the elite group of government agents on the 1960s television show, a group of computer scientists and natural language experts were given a "mission" earlier this week: within a month, build a program that translates between English and a randomly chosen language.

The project, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, challenges researchers to quickly build translation tools when unforeseen needs arise.

The exercise is designed to imitate the need for translation during a national security threat, like a terrorist act, war or humanitarian crisis.
The element of surprise in the project is critical. Since Monday, computational linguistics research groups from around the country have been gathering resources on the pop-quiz language, Hindi.
In theory, this Hindi-and-English system could be useful for the military or the media, for instance, who want to monitor the ongoing tension between Pakistan and India.

"You'd be able to read what the Indian newspapers are saying and what Hindi organizations are putting up on their websites -- whether they are terrorists or high schools, for example," said Eduard Hovy, director of the natural language group at the Information Sciences Institute.

"Every paper has a slant, and the slant that the local population is reading is important to understand if you may be going there," Oard said.

Still, the challenge is only an exercise for these researchers, and there are no plans to continue funding the system built this month.
Complete article..