|Expanding Access to Science and Technology (UNU, 1994, 462 pages)|
|Session 4 : Intelligent access to information: Part 2|
Introducing the discussion, M. Dierkes stressed that the second part of Session 4 dealt with two main issues related to the interface between information technology and human culture: first, the translation of information into the huge variety of world languages and the specific role of "sub-languages" in different professional fields and segments of society; second, the development of corresponding technologies that are less rigid than conventional information-processing by computers and thus make possible the handling of the more ambiguous information typical of human thinking and communication. He continued by saying that the vision of everyone communicating in their native language as they are instantaneously translated into other languages by highly '´intelligent" machines seems to be socially and culturally desirable. Whether this is technologically feasible in the foreseeable future and whether it is economically viable seem to him key questions to be addressed. A third issue, he claimed, is the problem of access to these tools, especially in the case of languages spoken by small segments of the world population and by people who lack sufficient financial resources to develop the relevant technologies.
The rationale of the great number of commercial products dealing with translations from English into Japanese and vice versa was questioned by N. Streitz, especially in view of the fact that the basic linguistic principles are public knowledge. D. Lide suggested that one might look for "a neutral interchange language" to which each natural language would be translated. Comments were made by G. Johannsen on the policy of Japan's MITI to foster competition in domestic research projects but to support cooperation within Japan when it comes to international competition. He said that this might be an example to be followed by others, especially the developing countries, calling for pooling resources and sharing costs of R&D.
The point was raised by M. Dierkes that efficient machine "translation" of languages and sub-languages would be an important element in preserving cultural diversity and facilitating communication in today's multipolar world. He stressed that there is a great need for future research to improve available technologies to the point that they are able to "intuitively" process information.
Finally, the need for international cooperation in this field was strongly supported by all participants: The cost of developing dictionaries, the necessity of understanding the cultural framework, the huge variety of sub-languages representative of social and professional "subcultures" or spheres of life, the cost of hardware and software production, the research required to go beyond the bilingual machine, and the need for more "intuitive" information processing are claimed to be just some of the technological, economic, and social aspects calling for international cooperation.