(AP) -- One day, a U.S. soldier entering tense situations without the assistance of an Arabic interpreter might rely on two-way translation software in mobile computers.

This year the military's Joint Forces Command has been testing laptops with such software in Iraq. When someone speaks into a microphone attached to the computer, the machine translates it into Arabic and reads that translation aloud over the PC's speakers. The software then translates the Arabic speaker's response and utters it in English.

If the software is uncertain about what one party said, it presents choices on the computer screen for the speaker to choose.

The military has had variations on this. Troops in Afghanistan had a gadget called the Phraselator that could speak a list of commonly useful phrases such as "get out of the car."

But the newer software can facilitate two-way conversations not limited to pre-chosen phrases. Recently the Joint Forces Command began testing one such system, known as IraqComm and produced by SRI International, on about 30 computers. Now the military is announcing a similar experiment is under way with software known as MASTOR from IBM Corp.

MASTOR's accuracy is not perfect, but "you can communicate a concept and you can elicit a response from someone" -- a huge improvement for U.S. troops who rarely have an Arabic linguist on hand, said David Nahamoo, chief of language technologies at IBM Research.

Wayne Richards, overseeing the project for Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia, said the systems have been tested in quiet offices in Iraq, not the noisy war zone settings that can hinder computers' speech-recognition abilities.

He expects it could be 2009 before real-time translation computers end up supporting the military in raids or other difficult scenarios.

Developed as part of a contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, MASTOR is also available for Mandarin Chinese. Eventually, IBM hopes to incorporate many more languages, not only for military purposes but also for tourists with handheld computers.
15.10.06 18:23

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