MIT’s Technology Review brings us a bit of technology called IraqComm, developed by SRI International. IraqComm is a translation device based on a Windows computer (mind the BSOD) that uses intelligent statistical methods to translate spoken words from English to Iraqi Arabic and back again…
A person speaks into a microphone and the words are collected and analyzed by speech-recognition software, called DynaSpeak, a system developed at SRI. The laptop screen then shows the phrase as the computer heard it. With a tap (of the “T” key), the phrase is spoken in the Iraqi Arabic. If the software has misheard some words, the speaker can choose from a list of other likely phrases, explains Kristin Precoda, director of the Speech Technology and Research (STAR) Laboratory at SRI and lead developer on the project.
After DynaSpeak converts the spoken words into text, software performs the translation. The software consists of two components, developed with the assistance of the Information Sciences Institute (ISI) at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles. The first module uses rule-based algorithms, explains Precoda, written to recognize specific rules of grammar and usage. They’re somewhat limited, however, because people use so many different words to convey ideas.
Thus, for more complicated sentences, the translation software turns to a type of algorithm that performs a kind of statistical analysis on the language. It works by assigning the likelihood that a word or phrase will follow another word or phrase, like a complicated version of predictive text messaging used on some mobile phones.
So…how does this qualify as a medgadget?
Currently, IraqComm can draw from a vocabulary of 40,000 words in English and 50,000 in Iraqi Arabic — not surprisingly, with a heavy emphasis on military and medical terminology.
IraqComm was developed under the Spoken Language Communication and Translation System for Tactical Use, a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program. SRI is one of six organizations developing English-Iraqi Arabic translation systems that are mobile and can translate military- and medical-oriented conversations in the presence of ambient noise.
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