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Fluent Machines aims to break through the language barrier

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Habla espanol?  Parlate italiano?  Sprechen Sie Deutsches?  The question, of course, is whether you speak another language. 

Learning to speak a second or third language can be time consuming and challenging.  What if you find out today that next week you're being sent on a business trip to another country where the residents speak a language that you don't know?  Your task is to negotiate a complex contract with a potential new client.  The discussions are expected to be conducted in the client's native language, which isn't English. Panic time?


Today, the most likely solution is that you'd have a human translator with you.  In the not-too-distant future, however, your translator might well be on your notebook or handheld PC.  Coming soon to a computer near you:  reliable, accurate human-quality machine translation of numerous languages.

A company called Fluent Machines is working on a machine translation application that is expected to be faster and more accurate than any other computer-based translation system in existence today.  The key to Fluent Machines' application is two patent-pending processes developed by its parent company, Meaningful Machines.

The first process enables a computer to automatically generate a database of translated word-strings by examining written text of any kind.  These word-strings could be phrases, entire sentences, or other word combinations.  The system then uses statistical analysis on a large number of documents and begins to distill the translation of all the components of the texts.

The second process connects contiguous translated word-strings in a target language with human-quality accuracy.  The system can automatically build many new, longer word-strings each time a new entry is made to the cross-language database.

There is a synergy between the two processes that allows the system to translate many more word-strings in many more languages, faster, more efficiently and with higher accuracy than other machine translation systems.

As a result, Fluent Machines' application can translate between any two languages for which it has a cross-language database.  Unlike other machine translation applications where cross-language databases are built one at a time between each language pairing - say, English and Japanese - the Fluent Machines' approach is to build the cross-reference databases - between every language and every other language - simultaneously.  One significant benefit to this approach to translation is that it is very well suited for translation among very different languages, such as English-Chinese and English-Arabic.

It's fun to imagine some of the possible uses for a very accurate machine translation application:

* Business - conducting truly global meetings with customers, partners and employees in multiple countries.
* Education - teaching immigrant children whose primary language is not the native language of the school.
* Public sector - improving services for foreign-born residents.
* Government - negotiating treaties with other countries with a better understanding of each party's concerns.
* Defense - improving our intelligence of developments in other countries.

Globe-hopping businessmen will appreciate the ability to travel to several different countries and "speak" or understand the native language in each country.  This is especially pertinent in today's global economy where supply chain partners are often found in countries such as China, India, Malaysia, Korea and Mexico, where English is not the primary language.

Have you ever tried to conduct research on the Internet and had one of your target sites turn up in a different language?  Even as I researched this topic, an article turned up in Polish, and despite my Polish ancestry, I couldn't read it.  In the future, with my machine translator, I will be able to read and understand it.

This past school year, a child from France transferred into my son's elementary school.  At 8 years old, the young boy spoke little English, and he initially struggled in his new American classroom, despite being an intelligent child.  In the future, the language barrier won't impact his studies, as machine translation helps him understand his lessons.

The possibilities are endless as we all get closer to understanding each other, no matter what languages we speak.

Although Fluent Machines is showing demonstrations of its technologies, there is no product that's just about to hit the commercial market yet.  I'm guessing that when it does, it will be a quick "sucesso."  (Of course, that's Portuguese for "success.")

Linda Musthaler is vice president of Currid & Company.  You can write to her at


Currid & Company researches information technology and how it can change the rules of business. Analysts focus on emerging technologies and methods by which organizations can obtain the best results from these innovations. Currid & Company offers consulting services to computer industry and corporate clients to help define and fulfill the potential of these exciting technologies. To learn more about emerging technologies that affect your business and your life, visit Your Digital Minute , brought to you by Currid & Company.

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