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DARPA Looks to Build Real-Life C3p0

By Wired

February 17, 2010

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Right now, troops trying to listen in on enemy chatter rely on a convoluted process. They tune into insurgency radio frequencies, then hand the radio over to local interpreters, who translate the dialogues. It’s a sloppy process, prone to garbled words and missed phrases.

What troops really need is a machine that can pick out voices from the noise, understand and translate all kinds of different languages, and then identify the voice from a hit list of “wanted speakers.” In other words, a real-life version of Star Wars protocol droid C3PO, fluent “in over 6 million forms of communication.”

Now, the Pentagon’s trying to fast-track a solution that could be a kind of proto-proto-prototype to our favorite gold fussbudget: a translation machine with 98 percent accuracy in 20 different languages.

Darpa, the military’s experimental research agency, is launching the Robust Automatic Translation of Speech program to streamline the translation process. (That’s “RATS,” for short. Ouch.)

It’s the latest in a series of Darpa-funded ventures that want to turn foreign-language text and speech into helpful data for English-speaking GIs, and vice versa.

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