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GCN : June 2015
[BrieFing] Although consumer programs like Skype Translator are making it easier for people to communicate when they speak different languages, govern- ments are struggling to make informa- tion available to non-English speakers. In a presentation last year, officials at the U.S . Labor Department stressed that anti-discrimination laws require agencies to provide information in other languages. Furthermore, “it is seldom, if ever, sufficient to use machine transla- tion without having a human who is trained in translation available to re- view and correct the translation to en- sure that it is conveying the intended message,” the presenters wrote. But an increasing number of resource-strapped agencies at all levels are relying on machine translation. New Hampshire’s Department of Revenue Administration and Vir- ginia’s Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired are using machine- translation technology and including links to Google Translate to help users navigate their websites. The Army, however, faced a situa- tion in which machine translation was not enough. When the military started training doctors in Afghanistan, there were few medical manuals available in the local language, Dari, and few speakers of both English and Dari who knew medical terminology. Using a combination of computer translation, computer scientists and Afghan doctors, the Army collected 6,000 medical phrases in Dari and compiled them into reference manuals. “Computers could never replace the human translator, but we look for ways to relieve some of the burden, especially in less commonly used lan- guages, like Dari, Pashto and Serbian,” said Melissa Holland, chief of the U.S . Army Research Laboratory’s Multilin- gual Computing Branch. • The limits of machine translation BY KATHLEEN HICKEY editor’s note Does technology translate? I’m not talking about literal language translation, although we do touch on that, too (see story above). Rather, I mean the technology itself: Are the same hardware, software and as-a-service solutions relevant at different levels of government? Or are city, county, state and federal IT systems different species entirely? The answer, of course, is “it depends.” Not many cities run weather satellites and need the geospatial infrastructure that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration demands, for example. And few feds spend their workdays worrying about which system can best track pothole-repair requests. The overlaps, however, far outnumber the outliers. Different levels of government might wrestle with different budgets, procurement processes and political pressures, but everyone has data to store, mobile workers and citizens to support and cybersecurity risks to manage. And whether it’s the CIO at NASA or the IT team in Nevada County, Calif., there are legacy systems to manage and questions about what should move to the cloud. GCN’s coverage reflects those overlaps. In this issue, for example, our feature on citizen-centric mobile app development shares lessons learned through efforts at the U.S. departments of Education and Energy, Colorado’s Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, the City of Riverside, Calif. , and the University of Texas. A look at storage solutions finds that Austin, Texas; Northumberland County, Pa.; Morgan County, Tenn.; and the Federal Communications Commission are all asking the same questions. And even where we cover systems that are specific to a single level of government — New Hampshire’s new IT system for its Division of Motor Vehicles, for example — the fundamental challenges and the building blocks used to address them have much broader applicability. In other words, the GCN team believes there’s much to be learned by looking beyond one’s immediate neighbors — and we’re always on the lookout for great IT stories at any level of government. If you have one to share, please let us know! And if you have a different view on tech’s “translatability,” well, that’s one of the 10 questions in our reader survey. Please go to http://is.gd/ GCN_survey, and tell us what you want most from GCN. — Troy K. Schneider email@example.com @troyschneider IT for all levels of government 8 GCN JUNE 2015 • GCN.COM CATALOG.ARCHIVES.GOV 0615gcn_006-009.indd 8 6/4/15 11:11 AM