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Translation Technology Driven by Big Data in Foreign Languages

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According to Capital Business, translation used to be a pretty straightforward process, even for government bodies. However, as social media is becoming more important and more "big data" is available, the need for government agencies to understand this data across languages is also more important.  Some of these languages are only used on the internet as they have been contrived by communities to enable easy communication, which poses new challenges for traditional translation models.

These new languages, such as Arabizi, a language created by Arabs to communicate in Arabic without Arabic characters, are a great opportunity for software companies. One of these companies is the Massachusets-based Basis Technology. Basis Technology is a text analysis software company that operates in and around Washington. The manager of the company’s federal group is former CIA employee Joel Ross (pictured below). His unit started small; Ross previously worked by himself from the basement of his home. This changed in 2005 when he received funding from In-Q-Tel, a investment firm from the CIA that awards money to companies that busy themselves with innovative technology that might be of use to the intelligence community.

Basis Technology Joel Ross

The company has proven to be very successful: its products are based on Ross’s knowledge about the CIA’s needs. Ross: “There’s always been foreign language tools for English and French and Spanish, but it seemed like the ones that the government and military were really interested [in] were these languages that most people have never heard of, like Urdu and Pashto and Dari.” He adds: “There were no commercial products because there is no commercial business for that.”

Half of Basis’s sales are accounted for by government revenue. Its star product is a language analysis suite called Rosette and can search for words and languages in millions of texts. The U.S. government might be drawing back its forces from Middle-Eastern countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, but Basis Text still expects a growth in requests for its language services.

Translation Software Market is Growing

As language services are an ever-growing market, it’s no wonder that other companies are trying to have a piece of the pie as well. The Translation Software market alone is set to grow to $7 Billion by 2019. An example of such a company is Science Applications International Corp. Three years ago, the company obtained intellectual property from a number of other technology firms which enabled the business to expand its services. Jeff Heisman, who is SAIC’s human language technology and mission support groups chief operating officer, believes that the productivity from both the government and commercial businesses can benefit from technology. “It’s not people versus technology. It’s really kind of bringing them together to provide value-added services,” he said.

Ross agrees with this view and stressed that fact that Basis is not aiming to replace the translators that are employed by the government, but that the company’s services can be used as a means to increase their work rate. “We need to get more out of the people we have.”

The Culture Vulture moved from Africa to work for Kwintessential back in 2007. His job is to fly around, keeping an eye on news, making sure you keep up-to-date with developments in the world of language, culture, localization and international business.