August 06, 2010

By Ofer Tirosh

TRANSTAC Translation Tech Will Replace Military Human Pashto Translators

Most people who need professional document translation, or professional translation for websites, software, video games, etc – understand the need for a professional translation service like Tomedes. Automated translation may work in a pinch to get the basic idea of something. It is not intended to translate whole documents for professional reasons, or translate whole websites for foreign markets. Professional language translation service is a skill that takes years to learn, and most translators will tell you that it is a service that you never stop learning. There are always new vocabulary words, new localized translation usages. Language is a living, changing entity, and so translation service must change with it.

However, as technology advances, so do technology translation systems. There is a new technology for oral translation being developed by scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) called TRANSTAC, which is an acronym for Spoken Language Communication and Translation System for Tactical Use. The device is being developed for U.S. military to communicate with non-English speaking citizens. Currently, TRANSTAC is being developed for Pashto to English translation and vice versa, which is a native Afghani language. TRANSTAC is also developing technological translators for Dari translation service, and also for Iraqi Arabic translation.

TRANSTAC: How Will it Affect the Future of Professional Translation Service?

Traditionally, the military has used human translators for communication and Pashto translation service, or Dari translation service and other languages. However, human translators who serve as Pashto translators have a few drawbacks, according to a project manager for NIST. First, human translators are often put into dangerous situations when they serve as a walking language translation service for military units to various Afghani or Iraqi settings and villages. Secondly, some human translators may have ulterior motives or hidden agendas for making themselves available for military or government translation service. Thirdly, human Pashto to English translators, or English to Pashto translators, are sparse in numbers, and sometimes hard to come by. This is also true for Dari translation and even some localized Arabic to English translation for certain dialects. So the military has decided that a technology substitute for even localized translation is a preferable solution.

Thus far, the TRANSTAC translation device works by using automatic speech recognition, which uses software to translate the speech into a text file in the target foreign language. Then text-to-speech technology converts the foreign language text file into an oral response to the foreign language speaker. When the foreign language speaker responds, the reverse happens for the military personnel. The technology is used as a smart phone or iPhone application translation system, in which the smart phone basically acts as the interface for the translation technology. Recently, focus groups practiced using several different devices with this technology, including the smart phone software translation device, which performed oral English to Pashto translation, and then Pashto back to English, between two people participating in the research study and focus group.

While there are positive uses and reasons for technology translation development, and software application translation devices, it is somewhat disconcerting that this technology is being developed specifically to replace human translators. While obviously technology cannot completely replace human translation service at this point, it is successfully developing, advancing and progressing more with every year. It is certainly cause for mental pause, and perhaps even alarm, for those whose livelihood depends upon the need for professional human translation service, and the need not only for professional document translation, but for oral human translation service as well. One cannot help but wonder, will technology eventually completely replace professional human translation service? Not likely, within our lifetime. But, who knows how the future of technology translation will ultimately affect the industry of human translation?

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