IBM Corp. will donate 10,000 copies of its speech translation software to the U.S. government for use in humanitarian settings in Iraq, the company announced.
A number of factors motivated IBM to make the donation, which also includes 1,000 laptops or handhelds to run the software. About 160 IBM employees have served in the U.S. military in Iraq or Afghanistan and told IBM of the need for better communications, an IBM spokeswoman said.
In addition, IBM Chairman and CEO Samuel Palmisano was “personally touched” when hearing about the son of an IBM employee who lost parts of both legs in an explosion while serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq, she said.
IBM anticipates the software will be used in medical settings and with aid groups, added Gary Ambrose, IBM’s vice president for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). “Our motives are pure on this,” he said. “We really are providing this as a humanitarian donation to support better communications between the military, citizens and aid organizations in Iraq.”
The IBM software, called Mastor (or Multilingual Automatic Speech Translator), instantaneously translates speech two ways, in this case, from Iraqi Arabic to English or vice versa. The software also includes a written translation on the host device, and it can translate more than 50,000 English words and 100,000 Iraqi Arabic words.
The U.S. government appreciates the donation, Admiral Edmund Giambastiani, vice chair of U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement. The speech translation technology can help improve communication with Iraqis and aid groups, he said.
The Iraq Study Group report, commissioned by the U.S. Congress and released in December, recommended the U.S. military focus on better communication there. Of the 1,000 U.S. embassy workers in Iraq, only 33 were Arabic speakers, and only six fluent, the report said.
IBM will deliver the software on 1,000 devices of the DOD’s choosing, Ambrose said. The company is working out the details but IBM could deliver the software on laptops immediately, he said. The value of the donation is about US$45 million.
The U.S. Joint Forces Command began testing 35 copies of the Mastor software in October. About 25 copies are being used in Iraq right now in noncombat settings, Ambrose said.
So far, Mastor can also translate modern Arabic and Mandarin Chinese into English, he said. IBM is working on including more languages.
The technology has promise in a number of settings, such as hospital emergency rooms in large multicultural cities, Ambrose said. And he sees potential for using the software to avoid conflicts.
“The prerequisite for peaceful outcomes is communication and trust,” Ambrose added.