Regardless of your position on the war in Iraq, most people likely agree on at least a few things. For example, we can agree that our soldiers deserve the best equipment. And perhaps we can also agree that the situation in Iraq could be improved, at least marginally, if Iraqis and Americans were able to better communicate with one another.
Earlier this week, IBM
That technology comes in the form of a system dubbed MASTOR, derived from "Multiple Automatic Speech Translator." The two-way "speech-to-speech" translator can receive English or Arabic via a computer microphone, translate it into the other language using sophisticated software, and then utter the translation through the system's speakers.
For some time now, the lack of professional Arabic translators has been a big problem for U.S. military personnel. In its report to Congress last year, the Iraqi Study Group, the bipartisan panel led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, noted that only six of the 1,000 workers in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq were fluent in Arabic. They said the problem was so great that addressing it should be given the highest priority.
It has been reported that IBM is making the offer is because the son of an IBM employee was recently severely wounded while serving in Iraq, and the company wanted to honor his sacrifice.
Whatever the motive, I applaud the gesture. And while I think it could generate some positive PR for the company, and help to position MASTOR as the de facto voice-translation system for the U.S. military, I'd encourage investors to think about the longer-term implications of this technology.
If IBM is confident enough to donate 1,000 systems -- and an additional 10,000 copies of software -- for the military to use, it must be convinced that the technology can make a real difference. And if that technology can be successfully employed in a high-stakes environment like Iraq, voice-translation systems might also find other real-world applications.
For instance, the technology could be tied into Google's
My point is that IBM isn't just "walking the walk" in helping our soldiers with the system. This technology could soon be helping millions of other people "talk the talk" almost anywhere in the world.
That's more than just good PR. That's good business.
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