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Machine Translation [MT]

Technology represents one major strategy that agencies use to address and manage their foreign language shortfalls. Computer translation - often referred to as machine translation - has been under development for decades.Machine translation, which is the automated translation by a computer from one written language to another without human oversight and intervention. It has distinct problems. One of the difficulties that machine translation is faced with is the ability of adjustment to context, but an advantage of machine translation is the speed. Machine translation is cheaper and faster, although it is also less accurate, than using human translators. To be effective, the translated text must initially be in grammatically correct form and cannot include colloquialisms. Because of this, only 60 to 70 percent accuracy is claimed by vendors.

One of the great inaccessibility problems of the Web is to the people who do not speak the major language, English, the lingua franca. And the demand for translation of English into other languages and vice versa leads to a steady improvement on the curve of machine translation. There are a variety of third-party Web sites that specialize in having the best software, making it possible to read someone's site through that intermediate site.

Information technology has made remarkable advances in recent years. The private sector (without the same kinds of security concerns as the Intelligence Community) has led the adoption of technologies that are also critical to intelligence. The Community will never be able to hire enough linguists to meet its needs. It is difficult for the Community to predict which languages will be most in demand and to hire the necessary linguists in advance. And even an aggressive hiring and training effort would not produce an analytic workforce that can absorb the huge quantity of unclassified foreign language material available today.

Eventually, all analysts will have basic foreign-language processing tools easily available to them so that even those who are not language-qualified can pull pieces of interest and get a quick, rough translation. NSA has done pioneering work on machine translation and is pursuing a number of separate initiatives; the military services, CIA (including In-Q-Tel), and other agencies sponsor largely independent projects. There is an abundance of activity, but not a concerted, coherent effort, which has led to steady but slow development.

The general idea behind machine translation is that computers have the patience, stamina and speed to quickly parse through gigabytes of text, matching text terms with equivalent terms from an external vocabulary. Human translators often scoff at the output of machine translators, noting the high rate of comical errors. An often cited, perhaps apocryphal, example of poor machine translation is the English to Russian transformation of "out of sight, out of mind" to the Russian equivalent of "invisible idiot." Despite limitations, machine translation is the only way to transform gigabytes and terabytes of text. As long as people continue to type messages, reports, manuscripts and notes into electronic documents, they will need computers to parse and organize the resulting text.

Although many machine-translation programs are currently available, few evaluation methods of such translation exist for any given application area. It is difficult to evaluate machine-translation systems objectively because the quality of a translation depends on the combination of three factors: the translation program, the dictionary, and the original document.

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Page last modified: 28-07-2011 00:50:13 ZULU