Language Engineering and the Information Society
The development and convergence of computer and telecommunication technologies has led to a revolution in the way that we work, communicate with each other, buy goods and use services, and even the way we entertain and educate ourselves.
One of the results of this revolution is that large volumes of information will increasingly be held in a form which is more natural for human users than the strictly formatted, structured data typical of computer systems of the past. Information presented in visual images, as sound, and in natural language, either as text or speech, will become the norm.
We all deal with computer systems and services, either directly or indirectly, every day of our lives. This is the information age and we are a society in which information is vital to economic, social, and political success as well as to our quality of life.
The changes of the last two decades may have seemed revolutionary but, in reality, we are only on the threshold of this new age. There are still many new ways in which the application of telematics and the use of language technology will benefit our way of life, from interactive entertainment to lifelong learning.
Although these changes will bring great benefits, it is important that we anticipate difficulties which may arise, and develop ways to overcome them. Examples of such problems are:
Language Engineering can solve these problems.
The language technologies will make an indispensable contribution to the success of this information revolution. The availability and usability of new telematics services will depend on developments in language engineering. Speech recognition will become a standard computer function providing us with the facility to talk to a range of devices, from our cars to our home computers, and to do so in our native language. In turn, these devices will present us with information, at least in part, by generating speech. Multi-lingual services will also be developed in many areas.
In time, material provided by information services will be generated automatically in different languages. This will increase the availability of information to the general public throughout Europe. Initially, multi-lingual services will become available, based on basic data, such as weather forecasts and details of job vacancies, from which text can be generated in any language. Eventually, however, we can expect to see automated translation as an everyday part of information services so that we can both request and receive all sorts of information in our own language.
Language Engineering will also help in the way that we deal with associates abroad. Although the development of electronic commerce depends very much on the adoption of interchange standards for communications and business transactions, the use of natural language will continue, precisely because it is natural. However, systems to generate business letters and other forms of communication in foreign languages will ease and greatly enhance communication.
Automated translation combined with the management of documentation, including technical manuals and user handbooks, will help to improve the quality of service in a global marketplace. Export business will be handled cost effectively with the same high level of customer care that is provided in the home market.
One of the fundamental components of Language Engineering is the understanding of language, by the computer. This is the basis of speech operated control systems and of translation, for example. It is also the way in which we can prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed with information, unable to collate, analyse, and select what we need. However, if information services are capable of understanding our requests, and can scan and select from the information base with real understanding, not only will the problem of information overload be solved but also no significant information will be missed. Language Engineering will deliver the right information at the right time.