US forces in Iraq have taken delivery of bidirectional English to Arabic translation software aimed at improving communication between military personnel and Iraqi forces and citizens.
Sensitively called Mastor (Multilingual Automatic Speech-to-Speech Translator), the IBM software will be deployed initially on 35 ruggedised laptops to the Army Medical Department, Special Operations Command and Marines.
"These military units will use Mastor to facilitate military and medical-oriented conversations with members of the Iraqi security forces, in hospital settings and during daily interactions with Iraqi citizens," said an IBM statement.
The software will also be used to train soldiers before they arrive in Iraq, according to Wayne Richards, branch chief of the US Joint Forces Capabilities Division.
"Our goal is to enable units operating in areas where human interpreters are scarce to communicate effectively with speakers of different languages in real-world tactical situations," he said.
Commercially available translation systems can only work with pre-programmed phrases, but Mastor offers free-form conversation without having to memorise pre-determined phrases.
The goal is to convey the meaning of what is said, even if minor errors are made by the speaker or the speech recognition software.
When users speak into a microphone the software recognises and translates the speech, then vocalises the translation in the target language. Mastor also captures the spoken dialogue as text.
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