ERCIM News No.26 - July 1996

1994-1995 Activity Report of the Language Engineering Sector

by Roberto Cencioni

...a revolution based on information, itself the expression of human knowledge. Technological progress now enables us to process, store, retrieve and communicate information in whatever form it may take ... unconstrained by distance [language!], time and volume.
Bangemann Report, 1994

The global digital village is the most exciting development yet in human communications and puts a new emphasis on the need for effective human-computer interaction and person-to-person communication. The Information Society paradigm revolutionises the way we used to do business, practise our trades and professions, operate our public services, receive education, etc. However, for the Information Society to deliver its full business, cultural and social value, a number of challenges must be met.

As new telematic services cross borders and link national markets and societies, users will find it increasingly difficult to use these facilities to their full advantage. This is due to the apparent lack of effective language support tools and interfaces in trans-border information and communication services.

But the language issue is not limited to inter-language communication; for the Information Society to succeed in being beneficial to everyone, not freezing out large parts of the non-expert population, care must be taken to provide easy-to-use access to the new information delivery points. Natural language and voice controlled interfaces are increasingly regarded as key technologies helping to master this problem.

Finally, whilst the Web has turned the Internet into one huge virtual disk drive packed with gigantic volumes of information, at easy reach for millions of users, the new challenge is effective filtering. Filters and retrieval techniques inspired by language technology will be pivotal in profiling and delivering no more information than that requested.

Meeting the Challenge

Language Engineering (LE) is one of the horizontal sectors of the Telematics Applications programme since its inception in 1991. Originally designed as a modest start-up sector (25 MECU total) intended to provide a dedicated framework for RTD in what was then seen as a relatively immature field, LE has successfully promoted a shift from long-term research activities to more immediately feasible and industrially relevant RTD themes. LE in the 3rd Framework has seen the launching of 26 projects bringing together some 170 organisations, reflecting a sharp increase in industrial participation. The last batch of these projects (stemming from the 1993 Call) are now reaching completion.

Overall their results have prepared and underpinned applications development in the 1994-1998 framework, by establishing an initial LE base beyond research circles, helping to identify key application domains, and contributing to the emergence of language infrastructures and the consolidation and validation of basic technologies.

This progress was recognised in the implementation of the Telematics Applications programme 1994-1998. LE RTD was granted some 80 MECU, thus making LE the third largest sector of the programme. At the same time, the scope of the operation was widened to encompass the integration of spoken and written language technologies into a broad range of information and communication systems, the ultimate goal being to ease and accelerate the deployment of advanced telematics services and products across linguistic and social barriers.

Four key themes were retained when designing the 1994-1998 work programme: Results to date

A total of 32 cost-shared projects and 6 accompanying measures and concerted actions have resulted from the three calls issued by the sector between December 1994 and September 1995. These represent a total investment of some 80 MECU of which 52 MECU contributed by the EU. Most of these projects and actions are already under way and bring together some 370 organisations. They address both the vertical sectors which make up the Telematics programme and key segments of the private sector, and cover a broad range of multilingual and transnational services for:
Current and future issues

The sector has attracted considerable interest from both ICT players and a broad range of user organisations, from vital European industries and public services. In supporting projects aiming at market opportunities in the short term and in the medium term, LE promotes a more global view on market developments and user requirements in the next five years. This dual approach not only provides opportunities for companies (including SMEs) that depend on shorter RTD market cycles, but also for public and private RTD centres willing to conduct leading-edge research into the next generation of telematic services. To increase cohesion and critical mass, LE projects have joined clusters corresponding to the market opportunity they target (eg tele-business, international business support, information services, etc.).

Please contact:
Roberto Cencioni - Commission of the European Union, DG XIII
Tel: +352 43013-2859

return to the contents page