Brussels, 29 Apr 2003
A study supported by the EU has revealed that Germany, the UK and the Netherlands are Europe's leaders in human language technologies (HLT), and has recommended that the field becomes a 'visible presence' in the European Research Area (ERA).
Human language technologies enable people to communicate with computers and to use computers in a more natural way in their own language. The benchmarking study was carried out by EUROMAP Language Technologies, a Commission supported initiative aimed at promoting greater awareness and faster take-up of HLT within Europe.
The study divides the EU Member States into four groups according to their robustness of opportunity to exploit HLT and their prospects for and success rates in HLT research and technology transfer.
The 'leaders' were found to be Germany, the UK and the Netherlands. Germany scored the highest, and has enjoyed consistent national investment in HLT from both the public and private sector since 1985.
Judged to have 'strong potential' are France, Belgium and Spain. These countries have well developed research communities and a significant depth of HLT research, and are therefore in a strong position to exploit HLT when the environment improves.
Sweden, Finland, Ireland and Denmark make up the 'promising' group, standing more or less at the EU median point. The report recommends that they increase their HLT research investment and improve their technology transfer record if they wish to aim for next generation standards.
The final group is described as countries having reached their 'structural limits', and comprises Greece, Italy, Portugal and Austria. These countries 'require a new approach to catch up with the leaders,' according to the report. It is also recommended that these countries look beyond their borders to exploit their HLT research, and the report claims that all will benefit from enhanced collaboration within the EU.
The report sets out a number of recommendations for Europe, primarily that a concrete and visible presence for HLT activities should be established within the ERA. 'The goal should be to have a set of robust, stable, multilingual HLT modules, capable of being embedded into emerging IST [information society technologies] application environments,' the summary adds.
EUROMAP claims that HLT is important for Europe for economic reasons. There is no other advanced economic area that embraces the linguistic diversity experienced by Europe. There are currently 11 official EU languages, and this will grow to more than 20 following enlargement. In addition to the official languages of the Acceding States, there are a number of regional languages, non-official national languages and immigrant languages within the borders of the EU.
In an increasingly dense information environment, language transparency is vital if citizens, consumers, governments and businesses are all to participate in the information society.
The study claims that EU funding has been imperative in creating a coherent research community in Europe. '[T]he tendency to fund a larger number of smaller projects (compared to practice in the US and Japan) has had the effect of broadening the technical base across the Union; at the same time the structure of FP [framework programme] projects, requiring cross-border collaboration, has created a genuinely pan-European research base,' reads the study.
However, the report also highlights the need for a more coherent view of language-related research in other areas of IST research, including digital libraries, fraud prevention, in-vehicle speech technology and vehicle documentation. EUROMAP proposes a 'clear map' with which to identify the patterns of ongoing research.
The study also calls for public investment to bring all languages to a relatively equal status or baseline level, as only English, German and French are currently well served. '[T]his is an absolute prerequisite for future development of advanced ISTs capable of serving all European citizens equally,' the study concludes.
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