International Workshop on Spoken Language Translation (IWSLT) 2008

Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
October 20-21, 2008

Language Technology in Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Response

Scott Hourin

U.S. Marine Corps Forces, USA

Every year, the U.S. military expends significant amounts of money and manpower providing humanitarian aid and disaster response (HA/DR) assistance to the developing world. While interpreters are usually available for programs such as the Medical Civic Action Program (MEDCAP), there rarely are enough to provide the level of doctor-patient interaction those of us in the developed world have come to expect. This is just one example where machine translation, while not necessarily at a maturity level to supplant an interpreter, could facilitate more efficient and effective employment of a corps of interpreters. The greatest hurdle to development of less common language technologies, however, is economic. There is little to no commercial benefit to developing translation systems for the majority of the languages spoken in the developing world. Add to that the complexity and diversity of these languages and the hurdle becomes monumental. While the military has great interest (and funding) in developing some of these capabilities, it can benefit greatly from the full focus of the linguistic and technical communities to figure out how to best tackle the problem of linguistic diversity.

Scott Hourin has worked with machine translation for the U.S. military since 2003. As a U.S. Marine Corps Officer he facilitated some of the first operational assessments of machine translation technologies. After college at the University of Richmond, he began his career as an infantry Marine in 1994 then moved small mountains of men and materiel in the logistics field before re-joining the civilian world in 1998. After four and a half years as a civilian he was mobilized for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and spent two years on active duty. It was during this second period on active duty in the Marine Corps that he began working with machine translation, among other technologies, in his role in the Innovation Technology staff section at I Marine Expeditionary Force. After leaving active duty a second time 2005 he continues much of the same work in his current role as a Project Lead with the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific Experimentation Center.

Bibliographic reference.  Hourin, Scott (2008): "Language technology in humanitarian aid and disaster response", In IWSLT-2008 (abstract).