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Living and Working Together in the Information Society

Discussion Document, Luxembourg, July 1997


Human Language Technologies will help to build bridges across languages and cultures and provide natural access to information and communication services. It will enable an active use and assimilation of multimedia content, and further strengthen Europe's position at the forefront of language-enabled digital services. It will support business activities in a global context and promote a truly human-centred infostructure ensuring equal access and usage opportunities for all. The ultimate goal of Human Language Technologies is an optimal use of the human capital, maximising businesses' competitiveness and empowering people.



Interactive multimedia content and services, interpersonal communication, cross-border trade and product documentation are all inherently bound to language and culture. Advances in computerised analysis, understanding and generation of written and spoken language are going to revolutionise human-computer interaction and technology mediated person-to-person communication.

Human Language Technologies aims to further strengthen Europe's position at the forefront of language-enabled systems and services. It will help bring the information society closer to the citizen by "humanising" information and communication services, and demonstrate the economic impact of language enabled applications in key sectors, notably those addressed by the Information Society Technologies (IST) programme.

The focus will be on three major challenges presented by key drivers of the Information Society - specifically, the globalisation of economy and society, high-bandwidth digital communication and the World Wide Web - for which human language technologies play a central role:

  1. adding multilinguality to information and communication systems, at all stages of the information cycle, including content generation and maintenance in multiple languages, content and software localisation, automated translation and interpretation, and computer assisted language training;
  2. providing natural interactivity and accessibility of digital services through multimodal dialogues, understanding of messages and communicative acts, unconstrained language input-output and keyboard-less operation;
  3. enabling active digital content for an optimal use and acquisition by all, through personalised language assistants supporting deep information analysis, knowledge extraction and summarisation, meaning classification and metadata generation.

An integral component of Human Language Technologies will be broadly based actions addressing:

  1. transfer of innovative technologies to a wider set of languages, for instance in the framework of international cooperation;
  2. development of interoperable and reusable language resources;
  3. definition of standards and interoperability guides for multilingual and translingual information processing;
  4. assessment and benchmarking of language technologies and components;
  5. focused take-up and demonstration activities, aimed in particular at SMEs;
  6. multi-disciplinary skills development for language researchers, developers and knowledge professionals.
  7. establishment of virtual centres of expertise and networks of best practice providing focus and guidance for demonstration activities carried out in many distinct sectors.



Achieving a competitive market position and a sustained growth in the global economy presupposes an efficient use of digital information and effective multilingual communication, enabling business operators to exploit the new economic and employment opportunities.

A cohesive societal development presupposes that all citizens be given an equal opportunity for taking full advantage of the new socio-cultural opportunities offered by the Information Society1, in particular that they feel comfortable using the new technologies.

The considerable challenge for a sustainable development of the Information Society that these apparently conflicting requirements represent, can be simultaneously met by a truly human-centered design of the infostructure. Business being inherently bound by language and culture, and information being mainly expressed and communicated in human languages, human language technologies will be the focal point of such an effort.

Specifically, amongst the needs which must be addressed are:

  • easy access to information and communication services in one's own language;
  • effective harness of the information glut;
  • meaningful use and assimilation of information;
  • natural operation of new services without needing specialist skills;
  • productive communication and cooperation across languages and cultures;

The challenge for Europe is to keep abreast of new developments in human language technology and further their deployment in a variety of key socio-economic sectors, thus achieving and maintaining a competitive market position and fully exploiting the new commercial, cultural and social opportunities arising from the Information and Culture Society.


The importance for Europe, in particular in the information age, to capitalise on the wealth represented by its linguistic and cultural diversity, while overcoming the inherent inefficiencies associated with it, has repeatedly been stated at various institutional and extra-institutional levels. In particular the relevance of linguistic and cultural aspects of the Information Society in Europe has been stressed by the European Council2, the European Parliament, and by the G7 Conference of Ministers.

The G7 conference on The Information Society and Development, has emphasised the fact that information technologies have a tremendous potential to preserve and exploit cultural and linguistic diversity.

The Information Society Forum, has pointed out that, while Europe's cultural and linguistic diversity is a unique wealth, it is also a major challenge that can act as a powerful barrier to human and business communication, and to the development of a single market for European goods and services. It has expressed the opinion that, given the appropriate framework, Europe's cultural and linguistic diversity will be strengthened not threatened, providing new global opportunities for information products that exploit Europe's rich heritage3.

The green papers on Commerce, Mobility and Innovation cite linguistic diversity as a major hurdle to be bridged in order to achieve the goals of improved competitiveness, sustained growth, and social cohesion.

Finally, the Union will be facing the new challenges arising from its extension to new Member States in the time frame set for the present programme: this will require increased efforts in order to ensure a cohesive development.


The main issues raised by a full exploitation of the new opportunities offered by the Information Society in a culturally and linguistically diverse Europe are:

  • high cost of multilinguality, caused by the diverse requirements of customers and commercial partners in terms of e.g. product and order information and international customers support, in a context where a growing amount of trade is being carried out electronically across political, cultural and linguistic borders, and where global competitiveness rests increasingly on shorter time-to-market, on higher information productivity and communication effectiveness;
  • constrained information access and cumbersome operation of increasingly complex interfaces that hinder mass-market penetration of PCs, for which professional markets are approaching saturation; there is also an increasing need for citizens to access and understand public information, a requirement of making administrations and public utilities more transparent, offering services electronically in the user's own language, and a need for improved accessibility for people with special needs;
  • communication overheads and bottlenecks involved in creating and managing business information in a group context, while information appliances and keyboard-less communicators are spreading, the mobility of people for professional and private purposes is growing, and new ways of distributed, computer supported cooperative working are emerging;
  • information overload, which is increasingly causing substantial inefficiencies, prevents users from accessing and using the growing mass of information, requires specialist skills that are not available to most users, and prevents an effective use of commercial and public information for all citizens;
  • ineffective assimilation of knowledge due to the difficulty of organising the highly complex information structures available, hindering a more natural, meaningful and effective way to process them that is consonant with people's need and lets users focus on the interaction with the information content rather than the computer interface.

Human Language Technologies will, through integrated activities covering targeted research, technology development, validation, first-use trials and demonstration, aim at providing:

  • higher operation efficiency, additional revenue opportunities, and improved growth prospects, in particular for well established, high-employment European sectors such as telecommunications (e.g. through new added value speech services) and high-technology manufacturing (e.g. through improved multilingual product documentation);
  • improved competitive edge, new business opportunities and broader market penetration, in particular for emerging or expanding sectors such as new online multimedia services (e.g. through intuitive and multilingual access), directory services (e.g. through spoken language access), transaction and communication services for electronic commerce and global virtual enterprises (e.g. through automated call centres, multilingual product catalogues and networked translation services);
  • advanced support for mobile work and interpersonal communication, in particular for distributed computer-based activities (e.g. through keyboard-less input and output, multimodal conferencing, and integrated multilingual email and spoken communication);
  • enhanced control over the information glut and better knowledge assimilation, in particular for professional and private information-intensive activities, including education, training and self-fulfillment (e.g. through Web information analysis, classification and extraction), supporting a lifelong learning and, ultimately, aiming at extending human cognition (e.g. through personalised language assistants or "lingbots");
  • equal opportunity of access to the benefits of the information society for all citizens, irrespective of language, education, culture (e.g. through language-based means for clustering, cross-referencing and searching of repositories of cultural heritage, learning resources and broadcast materials), for minorities and migrants (e.g. through full support for multilinguality) and people with special needs (e.g. through generalised speech access).


  • Developing human language technologies at the EU level avoids duplication of efforts and provides a stimulus for less widely-spoken languages not adequately supported by market forces.
  • Addressing local, Europe-wide and global challenges at the appropriate level provides the maximum cost effectiveness.
  • European RTD provides a model against which national agencies have devised and are developing their own programmes. Close cooperation with these activities provides added value to both EU and national activities.
  • A strong action in developing and deploying human language technology will further strengthen the EU leading edge in language-enabled digital services.
  • EU wide cooperation is required to mobilise the competencies needed to address the multilinguality issue.
  • Timely exploitation of market opportunities in a rapidly changing context requires support of critical mass.
  • Multilingual support contributes to achieve of a truly single EU market for citizens and businesses, spanning across linguistic and cultural differences.
  • Ensuring access to new services for all citizens maximises the market penetration of EU business and content industry, and improves their competitiveness in the global market.
  • Providing an equal opportunity of access to the 'culture society' for all counters the emergence of cultural ghettos, with the ensuing exclusion and instability.
  • More effective access to and use of European cultural assets enable and valorises Europe's cultural and linguistic diversity.


Novel aspects of Human Language Technologies concern the approach, which is both more focused and more flexible, as well as the core RTD themes and the supporting infrastructure.

  • RTD topics of growing importance such as information analysis, summarisation, classification and understanding, full interactivity, multimodality and transmodality, dialogue and multiparty communication, active participation, and new language based interfaces.
  • Infrastructural aspects crucial for more effective of RTD, such as the transfer of innovative technologies to a wider set of languages; interoperability of technologies and components; standards for multilingual processing; portability, scalability and reusability of language data and tools; technology transfer, patenting and licensing; market watch and uptake stimulation; skills development and (re-)training, in particular for young engineers and researchers.
  • Coverage of more languages, like less widely spoken European languages, languages to be addressed due to the broadening of the Union, and globally strategic languages.

Continued attention will be paid to applications being covered to an extent by current activities, and that have shown to be of high priority for European business and users, including multilingual support in general, multimedia online services, electronic commerce, including automated call centres and multilingual telephone-based services, language training, product documentation and localisation.



RTD activities will cover the whole value chain from research to demonstration, and be balanced between a sustained support for strategic technology development and openness to new applications in key socio-economic sectors. While being highly focused, these activities will be sufficiently open-ended for a flexible implementation, reflecting the reality of changing priorities.

Focus will be achieved by concentrating RTD activities on a small number of global challenges, of strategic importance in terms of competitiveness and social cohesion. Human language Technologies will address these challenges by leveraging on European strengths, while contributing to EU policies, as set out in the criteria for the Fifth RTD Framework Programme.

The Information Society drivers and HLT challenges
Figure 1. The Information Society drivers and HLT challenges

This integrated RTD effort will be complemented by focused take-up actions, including the transfer of innovative technologies to a wider set of languages, support for technology transfer and market uptake, furthering of new forms of partnerships, in particular in the context of new convergences, awareness actions and dissemination of RTD results.

Support will be provided for the achievement of the necessary RTD infrastructure, covering language resources, interoperability guidelines, standardisation and evaluation.

Accompanying measures will include international cooperation and efforts to ensure a critical mass of multidisciplinary expertise at European level.

The architecture of HLT
Figure 2. The architecture of Human Language Technologies

The share between core RTD activities on the one hand and focused take-up actions, infrastructural activities and accompanying measures on the other, will be determined and regularly reassessed in a way that optimises impact and return on investment.


The global challenges will serve as a framework for project clusters of targeted RTD, covering basic and applied research, technology development, the transfer of innovative technologies to a wider set of languages, and user-centred validation.

Supporting all stages of information production and access, and business communication in a multilingual context, including content generation and maintenance in multiple languages, multilingual authoring, content and software globalisation and localisation, automated translation (e.g. Web) and interpretation, and computer assisted language training.

Natural Interactivity
Enhancing interpersonal communication and accessibility of digital services, multimodal interactivity, improved accessibility and language-based interfaces where multimodal dialogues, understanding of messages and communicative acts, gesture interpretation, unconstrained language input-output and keyboard-less operation can greatly improve collaborative applications.

Active Content
Enabling an active assimilation and use of digital content, and applying language processing models and techniques to knowledge intensive activities, through personalised language assistants and delegates ("lingbots") supporting deep information analysis, knowledge extraction, summarisation, meaning classification and structuring, and metadata generation.


In order to sustain the European leading edge in language-based digital services, achieve a better impact and a higher return on investment, focused multidisciplinary research and technology development tracks will be pursued, in a coordinated, possibly competitive, framework.

Strategic technology development
Figure 3. Strategic technology development

These activities will consist of a small number of critical mass RTD tracks addressing the above global challenges. The identification of high-priority tracks and their selection will be performed periodically in an open and flexible way, taking into account the rapidly changing socio-economic context.

Special attention will be paid to the cross-sectoral and multi-purpose nature of these technologies. Contributions from and to other, neighbouring disciplines (e.g. cognitive science, artificial intelligence, psycho-linguistics), will constitute a source of further added value for these activities.


Openness to the needs of industry and society will be taken into account by 'bottom-up' integration and validation by early adopters, and first-use trials in a limited number of socio-economic domains, notably those addressed by key actions within the thematic programme on the Information Society:

  • Multilingual content and information services (for Interactive electronic publishing in Information Society (III)) and universal access to the European cultural heritage (for Digital libraries, museums and archives in Information society (III)).
  • Linguistic diversity and business training (for Education and training in Information society (III)).
  • Global business and electronic commerce (for Electronic commerce and business processes in Information Society (II)).
  • Services for the citizen (for Public authorities and utilities in Information Society (I)) and accessibility and comfort (for Health and the Disabled in Information Society (I)).

Validation in Human Language Technologies
Figure 4. Validation in Human Language Technologies

These activities will demonstrate the technical, functional and economic viability of research results and provide real-life testbeds and delivery platforms for novel European technologies, in support of a faster uptake and broader market penetration.


Technology Take-up

While RTD work will focus on novel technologies, support will be provided for ensuring the take-up of strategic technologies to adequately support the broadest range of European languages, thus helping to close the time gap between the emergence of leading-edge results in one language and their availability as embedded technology in multi-language systems.

Innovation and Participation of SMEs

Besides technological excellence, the effectiveness of RTD activities in this and other IST areas rests on an early awareness of emerging and new opportunities and a ready transfer of the relevant results to industrial actors.

  • Take-up activities in selected areas, with a view of stimulating the innovation process and support SMEs in particular.
  • Support for technology transfer, to be implemented in conjunction with mobility initiatives.
  • Market watch and intelligence, including product surveys, and user phase-in and procurement guidelines.
  • Awareness and dissemination measures targeted at specific socio-economic sectors. Impact Assessment In order to ease and speed up the technology transfer and take-up process, the value of language enabled applications and services will be assessed with respect to users and business processes and integrated with other activities, in particular validation and demonstration activities.
  • Research on the socio-economic impact, e.g. impact on business processes and work conditions.
  • Analysis of human factors, user acceptance and contribution to a better quality of life and improved public services.


Embedded Language Resources

Language resources for building and operating multimedia multilingual systems are an essential component of Human Language Technologies. The substantial cost for system developers and service providers involved in producing the underpinning language data requires actions aimed at achieving a distributed infrastructure of interoperable and reusable multimedia and language resources. These resources can substantially reduce system implementation and operation costs thus providing faster technology development and a better competitive edge for European digital service providers. Language resources activities will cover European and selected non-European languages of strategic importance and address:

  • resources for information and communication systems development in the context of strategic RTD tasks, including basic language sets for lesser spoken languages;
  • resources for online trade and transnational services;
  • resources for educational, commercial and corporate interactive publishing.
Interoperability, Standards and Assessment

The development and promotion of interoperability guides and standards for language databases and components is a necessary complement to the activities described above in order to keep their cost at an affordable level and promote their interworking and reuse.

  • Standards for language resources and multilingual information and communication systems.
  • Benchmarking of language technologies, components and systems.
Integrating Groups

Support, in particular for research and technology development, will be provided also in terms of cooperative infrastructures for groups of specialists and through backing for initiatives furthering best practices.

  • Virtual centres of expertise.
  • Networks of best practice providing focus and guidance for wider demonstration activities in language technologies carried out in many distinct IST sectors.


International Cooperation

International cooperation can lead to substantial economies and result in better competitive edge. Human Language Technologies offer a unique opportunity for international cooperation, which has already been exploited in the past. International cooperation will be targeted at:

  • Eastern and Central European, and Mediterranean countries;
  • G7 trade partners and emerging markets.
Expand the Human Capital

The important need for skilled researchers and technologists calls for an integrated and targeted action, in particular in favour of young people.

  • Skills development and (re-)training, for language researchers, developers and professionals, including knowledge workers, translators and interpreters;
  • Researchers' mobility, in particular in relation to technology transfer.


Human Language Technologies activities are relevant to many of the action lines within the thematic programme on the Information society, due to the pervasiveness of human language in information and communication related activities (c.f. table below). The more important links to other action lines have been brought out explicitly under 6.2 above.

Close links to the Information Access Technologies action will be established on those issues where the complementary approach of the two action lines is likely to provide synergy of technologies and improved solutions for the users.

In addition, of particular relevance are the links to the generic technology development activities with a visionary perspective, underpinning the thematic programme.

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