Collaborative research: making strides with machine translation

Machine translation is changing the global translation industry rapidly. Small IT vendors in the translation market do stand a chance against the Goliath of machine translation. Standardization plays a key role.

Looking at the majestic, centuries-old structures of Trinity College Dublin, your first guess wouldn't be that it houses one of the world's leading research centers at the cutting edge of technology. But it does.

David Lewis is Associate Director of the ADAPT Research Centre at Trinity College Dublin, and he loves his job. “At the ADAPT Centre we focus on the artificial intelligence behind digital content. It’s the content that sits behind the web interfaces and the mobile phone applications that all of us use on a daily basis. A particularly important part of this is machine translation. Many interesting innovations are happening in this field right now.”

Project FALCON

The translation industry is an industry with more than 30 billion annual turnover. Machine translation is transforming this global translation industry at a rapid rate, explains Lewis. “We worked in helping the industry adapt to that, by including machine translation features into existing standards.”


One example of a project at ADAPT which benefited from standardization was an EU project called FALCON. “We'd been working on some standards for bringing machine translation into the traditional translation business. There are many small companies producing innovative tools, but they all tend to work in their own silo. FALCON's aim was to help these small IT vendors in the translation market integrate their tools more easily, through the use of standards.”

 

On Falcon, ADAPT worked with three companies: one that produced translation tools, tools that translators would use. Another that worked on terminology, which is a very specific part of a linguist's job. And a company working on extracting content from somebody's website and sending their translation.

Lewis: “Enabling them to integrate their machine translation tools together resulted in a federated product, with a unified pricing model. More interoperability means less customers getting locked-in to a certain product or brand. And all of that interoperability was predicated on the support we gave them in implementing standards.”

In other words, standardization allows niche providers to compete in the market, says Lewis. “Google Translate is really leading the state of the art in general purpose translation but, essentially, 'Google don't do niches'. That means there's still a lot of space for machine translation to be developed, for example in specific areas such as medical translation, or legal translation, or governmental and regulatory translation.

Validation

The standards used at ADAPT were industry generated standards, rather than standards that could be used in an international treaty or those typically used by governments. But showing how the standards could be implemented in practice and could benefit companies in a very short period of time, was an important factor in gaining credibility.

“Standardization is a really good way for researchers to make sure that their research results actually have an impact in the real world. ”

Dave Lewis,
Trinity College, ADAPT Centre, Dublin, Ireland 

“It enabled us to go to the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI), and promote how we'd develop them into ISO standards, which is recognised by governments and at a more international level.”

 

For Lewis and his team at ADAPT, the success of Project FALCON was also a real validation of those standards. “It proved that they could be used by smaller companies, that they could be deployed in the translation industry very quickly”


“Often when we work on standards, especially as academics, there's scepticism; 'well is this really going to work in the market, can it be adopted by real companies?' So, by doing this project, we were able to show, yes it can be. Standardization is a fantastic way of demonstrating how your research has an impact in a very concrete way, with a very wide coverage.”
 

Standardization as a researcher's tool

In general, standardization is a valuable tool for any researcher. “Standardization is a really good way for researchers to make sure that their research results actually have an impact in the real world. It's a fast path to industry adoption, and it puts you on an international stage. And that impact is really valued, both in publications, but also by funders.”

 

Publications in standardization tend to be very focused on real world issues. As a researcher, you have to engage with industry to try and find out what the real problems are across a whole industrial sector. Those sort of research results show how your ideas are actually being used in industry, rather than being purely academic results.”
 

Getting involved with standardization also builds negotiation skills.“As a researcher going into the standardization process, you're used to sort of arguing the benefits of your work to your peers. But for standardization, you have to be able to persuade people to reach consensus about something.

My experience with standardization involved a lot of engaging with people I wouldn't normally engage with as a researcher. People working in companies, people working in national Standardization Bodies, people working in international organizations such as the EU and the United Nations, effectively; engaging with a much wider range of viewpoints than you normally have to work with.”

 

David Lewis and his team have embraced these skills, and have found them applicable in many other areas of work. “The techniques used in flagging ideas and collecting feedback to reach consensus, these are really useful skills. At ADAPT we tried to introduce these transferable skills from the learning in standardization, and bring that back into the research lab. Because research is essentially collaborative.”
 

The future of machine translation

In general, standardization is a valuable tool for any researcher. “Standardization is a really good way for researchers to make sure that their research results actually have an impact in the real world. It's a fast path to industry adoption, and it puts you on an international stage. And that impact is really valued, both in publications, but also by funders.”

 

Publications in standardization tend to be very focused on real world issues. As a researcher, you have to engage with industry to try and find out what the real problems are across a whole industrial sector. Those sort of research results show how your ideas are actually being used in industry, rather than being purely academic results.”
 

Getting involved with standardization also builds negotiation skills.“As a researcher going into the standardization process, you're used to sort of arguing the benefits of your work to your peers. But for standardization, you have to be able to persuade people to reach consensus about something.

My experience with standardization involved a lot of engaging with people I wouldn't normally engage with as a researcher. People working in companies, people working in national Standardization Bodies, people working in international organizations such as the EU and the United Nations, effectively; engaging with a much wider range of viewpoints than you normally have to work with.”

 

David Lewis and his team have embraced these skills, and have found them applicable in many other areas of work. “The techniques used in flagging ideas and collecting feedback to reach consensus, these are really useful skills. At ADAPT we tried to introduce these transferable skills from the learning in standardization, and bring that back into the research lab. Because research is essentially collaborative.”
 

Further readings

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