Darpa wants a real C-3PO to translate for troops Over There

Shocking admission: I’ve never seen a Star Wars movie. Well, that’s not entirely true: I did see Episode One and Episode Three, but I’m pretty sure those don’t really count. (I liked the song “Duel of the Fates,” though, and the one that played when Anakin fought the other guy in the lava or whatever.) I bring this up because this story is about C3PO, the friendly robot that I’m only familiar with because, well, I’m pretty sure everyone has heard of R2D2 and C3PO, including myself. The scoop: Darpa, made famous by Metal Gear Solid, wants to commission a C3PO-like software/device that’s able to translate 20 languages on the fly, identify specific speakers, and whatnot. It’d be useful for our troops in foreign lands, obviously.

It’s called Robust Automatic Translation of Speech, or RATS, which is silly. In theory, it’d be able to translate from any of 20 languages into sweet, sweet English. It would certainly save the government money—good news for all you fiscal conservatives. The Pentagon’s human translator budget is currently $1 billion. It makes me wonder: do they (or any other company for that matter) need guys in Brazil? The only time I use the Portuguese I learned in college is during UFC post-fight interviews. This is probably something I should investigate on my own time.

Anyhow, the first languages Darpa wants the system to be compatible with are Arabic, Farsi, and Pashto, spoken in Iraq (and elsewhere, of course), Iran, and Afghanistan. It should be able to translate words and phrases heard among 1,000 speakers. That’s a key point: being able to distinguish Speaker A from Speaker B from Speaker Z.