The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA), the U.S. intelligence community’s science and technology research operation, is seeking candidates to develop a universal translator.
IARPA’s Machine Translation for English Retrieval of Information in Any Language (MATERIAL) program intends to develop a tool that will allow intelligence personnel to search documents in all global languages, according to Ars Technica. This amounts to more than 7,000 languages spoken worldwide.
IARPA stated the specific goal of MATERIAL is to produce an “‘English-in, English-out’ information retrieval system that, given a domain-sensitive English query, will retrieve relevant data from a large multilingual repository and display the retrieved information in English as query-biased summaries.”
MATERIAL is designed to reduce the amount of time and effort devoted to researching and translating documents in various languages. The translation of documents in a multitude of languages, which sometimes use informal terms and unusual dialects, can require the attention of professionals who have years of training in the specific tongues being researched.
The complexity of this task is compounded by the need to accommodate so-called “low-density languages,” which are spoken and understood by only a small number of people worldwide.
While MATERIAL is designed to fulfill the needs of intelligence organizations like the CIA and NSA, the development of such a universal translator could have a much larger impact. This ambitious, moonshot-type program may have spin-off benefits, not the least of which would be making materials published in many languages much more accessible to people everywhere.
John Newsom is executive vice president at Veritone. He is a software executive with an evangelical passion for AI technology who aligns the Veritone Platform with customer and market needs. To learn more about AI in law enforcement, download the comprehensive white paper Artificial Intelligence: Friend or Foe?