DARPA issues BAA for advanced robotic translator

Apr 07, 2011 by Bob Yirka report
C-3PO. Image credit: Wikipedia.

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has issued a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for the procurement of research leading to an advanced robotic device capable of performing as a translator between humans who speak different languages, while also responding to a set number of visual cues, and is able to "listen" to communications, whether they be auditory or written and to respond with some degree of artificial intelligence. In short, DARPA wants a robot that would be some sort of combination between C-3P0, the robot from Lost in Space, and maybe the computer from Star Trek, (though it's not quite asking for the sentient android DATA, just yet.)

It’s no secret that the DoD wants better translation capabilities than they currently have; soldiers carrying small devices that can do little more than spit out canned phrases hasn’t gone very far in helping to understand what is going on during battlefield conditions. And as they have in the past, the top brass turn to , the folks who helped create the Internet structure that we all know and love today, to lead the way.

Called the Broad Operational Language Translation, (BOLT) the BAA specifies that DARPA is looking for a new Human Language Technology (HLT) research and development program to create a hardware/software combination that can translate multiple (foreign) languages “in all genres” (voice, recorded voice, email, text, etc.) It should also be able to retrieve information from translated material and be able to serve as both a machine-machine and human-machine translator and finally, the trickiest part, to take both visual and tactile cues from the environment and then to perform some sort of reasoning on that information, possibly combined with other inputs, to come up with an appropriate response, either orally, or via text.

As with most requests by DARPA, this request for proposals doesn’t necessarily require those who win one or more parts of the contract to actually construct the end result. What DARPA is looking for, is research. They want breakthrough technology, not just an addition to what is already out there.

The problem of course in paying for research instead of a promised product, is that if a contractor doesn’t come up with anything new, or at least something that looks good on benchmark tests, the whole program can go away just as quickly as it came; and at a proposed budget of $15 million the first year, that’s a lot of money to throw at something that could very easily wind up as nothing more than a simple wish list.

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More information:
via Wired

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User comments : 7

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2 / 5 (3) Apr 07, 2011
Well, you might want to start with Watson.

But they are basicly looking for a universal translator capable of parsing all languages and dialects, including all machine languages, both written and oral, and regardless of format, AND interpreting the environmental cues...

If you can do THAT then you really are already very near to Mr. Data.

They are going to need some really specialized hardware and software, IMO, which brings up a question:

Why haven't Sound Cards advanced as far as Video Cards? Why don't we have gigabyte sound cards with 800 processors for $129 the way we do for video cards?
5 / 5 (4) Apr 07, 2011
You can just use a graphics card to analyze the sound. Also the amount of information required to render 3D graphics is insanely large compared to say 320kb/s sound. Direct Compute could be used to do whatever you want, whether it's sound or compression of files or particle simulators. There is not much use for sound cards other than to make sure you have a high quality connection to your speakers.
not rated yet Apr 07, 2011
Use the amazon cloud to perform the recognition/translation calculations, the device could just be a dumb tablet.

Only drawback is they would need a 3g/4g connection.
not rated yet Apr 08, 2011
Use the amazon cloud to perform the recognition/translation calculations, the device could just be a dumb tablet.

Only drawback is they would need a 3g/4g connection.

How true. Imagine troopers in Afganistan stopping suspects: "wait, wait right there @$#%@#! We are trying to connect to translating cloud service, and it's not working! %^%*!, @#$&!"

My impression is DARPA's BAA reflects a shortage in capability to translating non-Latin-alphabet-based languages such as Arabic and Chinese texts and spoken dialogues. They are a real bitch to learn, believe me.
not rated yet Apr 08, 2011
a shortage in capability to translating non-Latin-alphabet-based languages such as Arabic and Chinese texts and spoken dialogues. They are a real bitch to learn, believe me.
Maybe Chinese and Arabic are "a real bitch to learn" but as Russian and Greek are not dramatically more difficult to learn than, say, English or French, it's not a matter of Latin versus non-Latin alphabets. Although Russian and Greek use non-Latin alphabets both languages belong to the same Indo-European language family as English and French.
not rated yet Apr 09, 2011
I don't see this happening in anything smaller than a room. So they might have to use a cloud.
not rated yet Apr 10, 2011
Why haven't Sound Cards advanced as far as Video Cards?
If you are old enough, you will remember how ridiculously long it took for car companies to offer 'stereo' systems for cars. All through the '60s,'70s and even 80's, if you wanted a good sound system for your car, you had to go to a third party. Why this was true I have never understood.

Unlike visual data sound is impossible to fake. Even a 1/10000 of sec sound glitch will cause your hair to stand on end. From a different direction, even today I still cringe when I see people, including my own grown kids, walking/driving around with ears plugged with sound devices. Must be the paranoia of my youth, but I can not relax when I am cut off from ambient sound.

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