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:
An integral component of Human Language Technologies will be broadly
based actions addressing:
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:
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 POLICY CONTEXT
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.
3 BARRIERS TO OVERCOME AND PROGRAMME CONTRIBUTION
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:
THE CONTRIBUTION OF HUMAN LANGUAGE TECHNOLOGIES
Human Language Technologies will, through integrated activities
covering targeted research, technology development, validation, first-use
trials and demonstration, aim at providing:
4 EUROPEAN DIMENSION
SUBSIDIARITY AND ADDED VALUE
SCALE AND CRITICAL MASS
COMPETITIVENESS AND COHESION
5 NOVEL ASPECTS
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.
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.
6 SPECIFIC ACTIONS
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.
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 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.
6.1 RESEARCH AND STRATEGIC TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT
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.
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:
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.
6.3 FOCUSED TAKE-UP ACTIONS
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.
6.4 SPECIFIC INFRASTRUCTURE
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:
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.
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.
6.5 ACCOMPANYING MEASURES
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:
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.
7 LINKS TO OTHER KEY ACTIONS
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.
Please report problems to HLTTeam@HLTCentral.org.