IBM Enters Machine Translation Space

IBM Monday became one of the largest firms to tackle the task of translating
languages for global Web communication with the launch of its WebSphere
Translation Server.


Known as machine translation, an elementary use occurs when a user goes to a
search engine such as AltaVista, types in say, “friend,” and requests its
proper translation in Spanish. If it’s working properly, the user should see
“amigo” as the correct answer.


But for Big Blue’s purposes, the translation server meets needs on a much
wider scale. The technology giant wants to
sell the $10,000 server to enable enterprises to provide Web pages, e-mail
messages and chat conversations in multiple
languages, in real time.


Using the server, enterprises can create and distribute Web content
globally, without the need for special Web pages or
separate Web infrastructures. It also enables chats in multiple languages
for both internal and external communications.


One major customer to give Big Blue’s translation server a whirl was
Deutsche Bank Private Banking, whose 6,500 employees will use the server to
translate Internet and intranet content in its new knowledge management
system, according to Marco Stein, project leader, Global Private Banking
Intranet, Deutsche Bank.


“The ability to support bi-directional translation for a wide range of
languages was an important consideration for us, Stein said. “We also needed
a system which actually understood the grammars of the various languages,
much more than just a translation of individual words.”


Steve McClure, vice president of Speech and Natural Language Software at
research firm IDC, told InternetNews.com that machine translation is
extremely cost-effective. And IBM’s new product boasts a bonus in that it is
bi-directional, which means a user can access text translation between
English and French, German, Spanish and Italian, as well as from
English to Chinese and Japanese and Korean.


“Machine translation allows for dynamic business content to be created at a
fraction of the cost of professional translation services,” McClure said.


McClure said until IBM’s push into the sector, machine translation was
attended to by about 60 various, yet mostly smaller players, including
struggling Belgian firm Lernout & Hauspie and lesser-knowns such as Systran
and Transparent Language.


McClure also noted that IBM’s move will validate a sector whose software
market is expected to reach $378 million by 2003. McClure said Moore’s Law,
which posits that the number of transistors-per-square-inch on a chip
doubles every 18 months, also applies to speech recognition, the category in
which machine translation is situated.


Running on NT, AIX and Solaris, the IBM WebSphere Translation Server can
translate up to 500 words per second (speeds may vary based on processor
speed and system configuration).


IBM’s WebSphere Translation
Server
will be available in March 2001 from IBM, Lotus and Lotus
partners.

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