20 November 2015

The European Language Cloud, or How to Enable Multilingual Europe

Multilingualism is a core value of the European Union, as integral to Europe as the freedom of movement, the freedom of residence, and the freedom of expression. The European Charter of Fundamental Rights, which enshrines the foundational rights and freedoms protected in the EU, upholds a respect for cultural, religious, and also linguistic diversity as a cornerstone of European policy.

Europe’s commitment to linguistic diversity is most clearly apparent in its unwavering decision to maintain 24 official languages in the EU – no matter how large or small their speaker populations, and despite the bureaucratic hurdles in Brussels and Luxembourg – though many more regional languages are widely spoken and officially promoted across the continent.

Language barriers in the digital world

Though Europe’s multilingualism is a fundamental cultural and social value, its treasured linguistic diversity can also lead to significant communication barriers between people. The upholding of “unity in diversity” remains a difficult challenge. The effects of linguistic fragmentation can be seen most clearly in maps of language use on social media sites such as Twitter, where conversations are mostly restricted to national languages and thus limited by geographic borders.

As these fascinating maps make all too clear, language barriers can hinder the free flow of information and knowledge between nations, effectively fragmenting Europe into “language silos.” This is a major obstacle for the receiving and imparting of information and ideas across national borders – a defining aspect of the freedom of expression.

Language barriers also represent a major obstacle to the creation of the Digital Single Market, which seeks to combine the 28 national digital markets, harmonizing regulations and uniting all 500 million citizens of the EU in a single online marketplace.

At the moment, as a Eurobarometer study shows, more than 40% of Europeans never purchase goods or services if they are not available in their native language. Language barriers therefore severely restrict access to goods for European consumers, hindering the creation of a Digital Single Market. Having more access to information in multiple languages would go a long way toward increasing the number of cross-border sales. At the moment, according to the European Commission, only 15% of European consumers shop online in other EU countries, and only 7% of European SMEs sell cross-border. There is much room for growth.

How language technologies can help

Fortunately, there is a technological solution to easing linguistic fragmentation online. Recent developments in language technologies, such as state-of-the-art machine translation and automated speech recognition, now enable us to overcome language barriers between people, simultaneously allowing multilingualism to thrive in the digital world.

Thanks to language technologies, people are enabled to write, read, or speak online in their own native language, while others can access the information in a language that they understand.

The heightened application of these language technologies to the online market will not only foster communication between nations. It will also help boost the European economy by enabling more cross-border trade.

Just imagine: a digital market where absolutely all online content is instantly available in all languages of the European Union; where Internet users can interact seamlessly in real time with one another regardless of the language they are speaking or writing; and where goods and information can be searched for and accessed no matter where it was posted or in which language.

European Language Cloud

Where to begin to realize this vision? Fortunately, European excellence in language technology research and the thriving language technology industry has already laid the foundations for a viable solution. This includes recent breakthroughs in services from fields such as natural language processing, machine translation, text analytics, speech recognition, multilingual SEO/SEM, and semantic analysis.

But none of these services alone can meet the comprehensive needs of European industry and enable a truly multilingual Digital Single Market. To meet the complex needs of the market, language technology services must be accessed, combined, and leveraged into large-scale solutions, which can then be plugged directly into applications, making them fully multilingual.

This is where European policymakers can step in and help, by setting up a public language technology infrastructure – the European Language Cloud. This infrastructure would use the power of cloud technologies and combine the best that European industry and research have to offer.

A European Language Cloud would ensure easy access to key enabling language technologies for all EU languages, in the areas of natural language processing, automated translation, speech processing, and semantic analysis, among others. This would make these enabling services easily available to developers and integrators of commercial and public digital solutions.

The infrastructure should also include open access to multilingual language resources – the raw material for data-driven technologies and solutions – which all too often remain buried deep in corporate and government databases, instead of being used to build the solutions sorely needed by the marketplace.

Once a solid European Language Cloud infrastructure is in place, commercial players and public sector organizations could then use the available language technology services as buildings blocks, or core components, to create innovative multilingual solutions for their high-demand applications. 

The role of European research and innovation

At the same time, the European Language Cloud must be continuously replenished with new services and innovations. The driver of this innovation is the cutting-edge language technology research emerging from Europe’s universities and research centers. However, several “knowledge gaps” still exist in research, and often our research doesn’t fully evolve into commercially viable applications.

Targeted actions are critically needed to address the gaps in coverage for all EU languages, and provide novel methods to improve quality and applicability of language technologies. In a tangible display of its respect for linguistic diversity, Europe must fill the gaps in existing knowledge and ensure that all EU languages (not just larger languages) have the same degree and quality of language technology services.

Europe must also guarantee that European excellence in research keeps up with the growing demands of global industry. This will help Europe to remain globally competitive with next-generation services and solutions.

What Europe can do to implement this vision

How to implement this vision? The European Commission already has the right instruments in place – an encouraging sign. The Connecting Europe Facility programme is taking the initial steps to create an automated translation infrastructure for Europe. Public institutions across Europe have already begun to reap the first fruits of this programme, as it extends and improves its translation technologies for European languages. But the CEF programme should be significantly expanded to include other essential language technologies as well.

Europe must also reinforce its innovative language technology research, through programmes like Horizon 2020 and other instruments. Unfortunately, language technologies are missing from the latest Work Programme for 2016-17. Not only should they return to the Work Programme for 2018-19, but they should also assume a central priority to address this major challenge for Europe.

Breaking the language barrier in Europe is essential to make the EU more united in its diversity. It is crucial for not only increasing trade and commerce, but also fostering communication and understanding between the 500 million citizens of multilingual Europe. This is needed today more than ever. We should not miss this opportunity.

Andrejs Vasiļjevs and Rihards Kalniņš, Tilde

13 July 2015

Le traitement automatique des langues (enfin) à l’honneur

Confrontée à un volume d’information toujours croissant, l’Europe découvre, ravie, la valeur du traitement automatique des langues, ciment de la construction européenne.

Lors du récent sommet LT-Innovate, Alexander De Croo, vice premier ministre de Belgique et ministre de l’Economie digitale ainsi que Robert Madelin, directeur général de la DG CONNECT à la Commission européenne, ont envoyé un message très clair à la communauté du Traitement Automatique des Langues (TAL) : « Nous comprenons aujourd’hui l’importance de votre discipline et le rôle qu’elle joue dans le développement économique de l’Europe. Nous apprécions aussi votre capacité à transformer et adapter votre discours à nos préoccupations économique et politique ».

Ce message, illustré dans les interventions régulières des intervenants politiques, souligne la prise de conscience du rôle fondamental du traitement automatique des langues.

Cette « compréhension déclarée » serait ainsi liée à la transformation du discours de notre discipline envers les autorités. Je n’en suis pas aussi convaincu que cela. Je n’ai pas le sentiment que notre discours ai subitement ou progressivement changé fondamentalement, et ce quelle que soit la discipline concernée, la traduction, la reconnaissance vocale ou encore l’analyse sémantique.
Cette soudaine prise de conscience des autorités européenne me semble être davantage une conséquence de leur difficulté, voire de leur impossibilité à faire face au volume d’information qui les submerge aujourd’hui.

En ce sens, nous pouvons rappeler à la communauté et aux autorités, que l’un des 3 V du Big Data – la Variété - caractérise intrinsèquement la masse des données qu’il faut appréhender et traiter.
C’est bien cet enfant de l’ère numérique qui a éveillé les consciences sur l’importance des données, leur nature, leur diversité, leur masse, pour l’aide à la décision technique, économique et politique.
Cependant, quelles qu’en soient les raisons, cette prise de conscience, dans le contexte du « Digital Agenda for Europe » est une excellente nouvelle pour notre communauté. Celle-ci, rappelons-le, est composée à la fois d’universitaires, mais également d’un grand nombre de PME à travers toute l’Europe. Il apparaît donc aujourd’hui que nous sommes clairement identifiés et reconnus pour nos expertises variées et notre valeur contributive au développement et aux enjeux européens.

Nous le savons, et j’ai pu le vérifier lors de notre réunion annuelle, toutes les entreprises engagées de notre communauté connaissent bien la manière dont elles peuvent contribuer à ce développement stratégique. En revanche, trop nombreuses sont celles qui finissent par baisser les bras au moment de se confronter aux mécanismes administratifs complexes et statutaires de l’Europe. Nous sommes en général des entreprises de petite taille et malheureusement pas toujours correctement équipées pour échanger d’égal à égal avec les autorités Européennes à l’occasion de projets de type H2020 ou autre. Nous avons parfois le sentiment regrettable qu’au cours des 15 dernières années, le fossé entre nous continue inexorablement de se creuser, qu’une communication simple et directe reste toujours difficile et qu’au final, l’Europe ne sait pas nous accompagner.

Il est urgent et impératif que l’Europe assume et entretienne un rôle d’accompagnement stratégique – à l’instar des États-Unis – auprès de nos PME innovantes, de nos start-up, parfois fragiles, afin d’assurer des perspectives de développement pérenne à moyen et long terme. L’Europe doit comprendre l’importance stratégique des technologies innovantes que nous développons pour servir, entre autre, l’indépendance technologique, économique, culturelle et juridique de notre continent européen.

Il est heureux que nos représentants européens prennent conscience de notre existence technologique et de notre valeur associée. Il est temps maintenant que notre Europe administrative se mette à notre hauteur afin de nous apporter une aide active en nous impliquant dans des projets d’exécution et de production. L’un des premiers bénéfices attendus permettrait certainement de simplifier et d’optimiser ses propres rouages administratifs...

Charles Huot est le directeur général délégué et co-fondateur de TEMIS, une société de gestion des données non structurées. TEMIS aide les entreprises à archiver, gérer, analyser, trouver et partager un volume d’informations toujours croissant. Cet article a été publié aussi sur EurActiv.

The LT-Innovate Summit 2015 in a Nutshell

The LT-Innovate Summit 2015 was attended by more than 140 stakeholders from industry, research, consultancy and policy making. Below are its highlights.

LT-Innovate Award Winners 2015

Five Winners of the LT-Innovate Award 2015 were selected by the jury & participants from the 17 applicants who showcased themselves during the Summit:
The 5 Winners of the LT-Innovate Award 2015 were designated at the LT-Innovate Summit on 25 June:
Dolphio Technologies
recapp IT
The Winners were selected by the jury & participants from the 17 applicants who showcased themselves during the Summit.
See more information on our main LTI Award page.
- See more at: http://www.lt-innovate.eu/lti-summit/award-2015#sthash.ngYjBzd8.dpuf
The 5 Winners of the LT-Innovate Award 2015 were designated at the LT-Innovate Summit on 25 June:
Dolphio Technologies
recapp IT
The Winners were selected by the jury & participants from the 17 applicants who showcased themselves during the Summit.
See more information on our main LTI Award page.
- See more at: http://www.lt-innovate.eu/lti-summit/award-2015#sthash.ngYjBzd8.dpufthe LT-Innovate Award 2015 were designated at the LT-Innovate Summit on 25 June:

Dolphio Technologies
recapp IT

The Winners were selected by the jury & participants from the 17 applicants who showcased themselves during the Summit.

See more information on our main LTI Award page.Five Winners of the LT-Innovate Award 2015 were selected by the jury & participants from the 17 applicants who showcased themselves during the Summit:
For more information, see main LTI Award page.

The 5 Winners of the LT-Innovate Award 2015 were designated at the LT-Innovate Summit on 25 June:
Dolphio Technologies
recapp IT
The Winners were selected by the jury & participants from the 17 applicants who showcased themselves during the Summit.
See more information on our main LTI Award page.
- See more at: http://www.lt-innovate.eu/lti-summit/award-2015#sthash.ngYjBzd8.dpuf

Launch of the LTI Cloud

Jochen Hummel - CEO, ESTeam and Chairman, LT-Innovate; Robert E. Etches - CIO, TextMinded; Luc Meertens - CEO, CrossLang; and Christoph Prinz - CEO, SailLabs called upon the Language Technology industry to join forces for the Launch of the LTI Cloud, a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) wrapper which will make it easy to discover and plug ‘n’ play language technology components.

For more information see letter and presentation
Jochen Hummel - CEO, ESTeam and Chairman, LT-Innovate; Robert E. Etches - CIO, TextMinded; Luc Meertens - CEO, CrossLang; and Christoph Prinz - CEO, SailLabs call upon the Language Technology industry to join forces for the Launch of the LTI Cloud at the occasion of the LT-Innovate Summit on 26 June 2015. - See more at: http://www.lt-innovate.eu/lt-observe/document/call-collaboration-join-us-launch-lti-cloud#sthash.8QNp6p0Q.dpuf

Industry Challenges

Several industry executives provided an overview of their company's current and future needs from a language technology point of view:
  • Christian Dirschl, Chief Content Architect, Wolters Kluwer Deutschland GmbH
  • Florence Beaujard, Head of Linguistics and Physiology for Cockpit Design, Airbus
  • Armin Hopp, Founder, Speexx
  • Christophe Leclercq, Founder, EurActiv
Christian Dirschl wrote a blog, summarising his experience and offering the support of Wolters Kluwer for the next steps.

Keynote speakers

The Summit welcomed three keynote speakers representing the three institutions involved in policy making at EU level:
  • Paul Rübig, Member of the European Parliament
  • Robert Madelin, Director General, European Commission, DG CONNECT
  • Alexander De Croo, Belgian Federal Vice-prime Minister and Minister for Development Cooperation, the Digital Agenda, Telecommunications and Post
For more information, see blogs by Margaretha Mazura, Charles Huot (in French) and BelgienInfo article (in German).

Board of Directors

At the occasion of the Annual General Meeting of LT-Innovate, several new members of the Board of Directors were appointed:
  • Robert Etches, CIO, TextMinded
  • Matthias Heyn, Vice President Global Solutions, SDL International
  • Charles Huot, COO, TEMIS
You will find a full list of the current Board of Directors here.

Key links

Here are additional links to find out more about LT-Innovate 2015:

Programme and presentations
Storify (summary) drawing upon the #ltisummit Twitter stream
Picture gallery

07 July 2015

Three high-level political messages in support of a multilingual Digital Single Market

On 25-26 June 2015, experts, technicians researchers, business people, intermediaries and politicy makers got together at the LT-Innovate Summit in Brussels to discuss and explore how language technologies can make the Digital Single Market multilingual.

MEP Paul Rübig opening the LTi Summit 2015

The first keynote by Austrian MEP Paul Rübig set the scene: "Language technologies represent a substantial economic power, they are set to grow dramatically, and thus, represent a great asset for Europe!". While languages are a representation of Europe's cultural heritage, they represent also an obstacle to cross-border trade. Paul Rübig emphasized that Europe's target should be to "remove language barriers as well as leverage on language diversity in order to support intra-European commerce and foster international trade. But this requires deep integration of language technologies in business processes and the public administration services. Therefore, the LT component must be part of the Digital Single Market".

R. Madelin, Director-General DG CNECT

The second high-level speaker was Director-General of DG CONNECT of the European Commission, Robert Madelin, who will become Special Adviser on Innovation to President Juncker as of 1 September 2015. He pointed out that the "ability for all Europeans to get what they need in the language of their choice is a requirement of the 21th century". He emphasized that LT-Innovate had contributed to clarifying the vision, which now needs to be implement practically and concluded: "the European cloud has to include an answer to the challenge of languages. Multilingualism is a necessity for Europe!".

Belgian Federal Vice Prime Minister, Alexander de Croo

The final keynote speaker of the event conquered the audience with a truly inspiring speech: Belgian Federal Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Development Cooperation, the Digital Agenda, Telecommunications and Post, Alexander de Croo. He described the current digital landscape with all its opportunities but also issued some warnings: "Digital is one of the strongest democratic forces in the world. The biggest opportunities are in the traditional industries, here digital can make the big difference. Digital is a driving industry; language technology is empowering it to go global. [...] At some stage everything will be connected - language technology will empower people to understand". When it comes to the people, his message is clear: "Give more attention to people! Engage the European community in the creation of our digital future! We need to give more importance to eSkills, the educational system needs flexibility and innovation. I don't want an Einstein economy!" And he continued with another issue that was also raised at the LTO dialogue workshop on language resources: Trust! "We need trust. Give us more trust please in Europe and for Europeans. If you let people get on with it, people will do good things. Give it a try". And he ended with a hint towards the EU policy: "Thinking behind the single market is futile if we do not get rid of mobile roaming! Breaking up platforms is no solution! Creating the Digital Single Market will empower our own platforms." 

See the Summit' s full programme and presentations.

16 June 2015

Over the Hurdle of Multilingualism to Global Leadership

The Digital Single Market (DSM) has been declared a European priority by the European Commission. Rightfully so! Software eats everything and particularly eCommerce is enjoying dramatic growth rates and thus heavy investment. VP Andrus Ansip  has nicely summarized the vision of the Digital Single Market: “Consumers need to be able to buy the best products at the best prices, wherever they are in Europe.”

Today, unfortunately, that means that the consumer is in most cases spending her/his money on a non-European site. The numbers are actually shocking: according to a recent Commission infographic the Digital Market today is made up by 39% national online services (likely not giving you the best deal) and 57% by US-based online services. EU cross-border, however, represents only a minuscule four percent!

Given also the potential for growth and new jobs, the Commission has launched a digital strategy to pave the way towards the DSM. It lists many laudable initiatives, like affordable parcel delivery costs, tackling of geo-blocking, simplifying VAT arrangements (after they just have been made unmanageable for cross-border SMEs), modernizing copyright, and strengthening European data protection rules. All this will surely help, but does it really address the core challenge of the Digital Single Market?

Commissioner Oettinger  recently stated that "a Polish citizen being refused to buy products on a German website is not compatible with the idea of Europe". I am not so sure whether that online business is really rejecting the customer. Why should it? It probably rather has a hard time communicating with this customer. But worse, the Polish citizen likely never managed to find the German website. A simple search already breaks the vision of border-less shopping. Enter a string in your language and the search results will already trap you in your national market. But even if a product name search crossed these language silos, the Polish citizen probably won’t understand what the German website is offering and under which conditions.

The main hurdle towards a Digital Single Market are Europe’s many languages. It’s amazing how politics, but also business, have overlooked this so far! Or maybe rather chosen to ignore it? Perhaps because they don’t know how to solve it? The big investments in technologies to overcome the language barrier have often produced only academic results. The field is dominated by research institutions and small niche players. This makes it hard to discover, purchase, and deploy language technology solutions.

Luckily, language technologies can today indeed enable the Polish citizen to find, buy, and use a German product or vice versa. By using data-driven approaches, innovative language technologies such as search, automatic translation, voice recognition, knowledge management, sentiment analysis, and many others, have achieved acceptable quality for the major languages. They are ready to be deployed in European eCommerce sites.

However, for achieving the vison of the Digital Single Market, we have to support at least all our 24 official languages and those of our most important trading partners. This requires a basic natural language processing (NLP) infrastructure. The European Language Technology industry is therefore pushing for the European Language Cloud (ELC), a public infrastructure providing the basic functionality required to process unstructured content. Through an API the ELC provides basic language technology services such as tokenization, named entity detection, etc. for all languages, in the same base quality, under the same favorable terms.

On top of this infrastructure, European language technology companies, mostly SMEs, will expose their offerings in the LTI Cloud. The LTI Cloud is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) wrapper around language technology components and functions as a marketplace. It will make it easy for start-ups, eCommerce, system integrators, and software companies to discover and plug ‘n’ play language technology.

The fourth edition of the LT-Innovate Summit, the yearly point of convergence of the Language Technology industry, will explore how to concretely launch these crucial building blocks for the DSM.

In a recent article, the Washington Post mocked Europe’s DSM efforts by stating that "Europe’s digital decline is accelerating". I would counter that. Why don’t we turn this much moaned about hurdle of Europe’s multilingualism into a unique opportunity? If we manage, in spite of our many cultures and languages, to create a Multilingual Digital Single Market and cross-border eGov, we will become the fittest for the global market.

Jochen Hummel is CEO of ESTeam & Coreon and Chairman of LT-Innovate

10 June 2015

Major disruption ahead in the language industry!

The Q2 issue of GALAxy, the quarterly newsletter of our partner association GALA, is guest edited by LT-Innovate Chairman Jochen Hummel (@JochenHummel) with a thought provoking piece on how Language Technology will leverage Big Data and transform the industry.

Several other articles are contributed and/or co-authored by LT-Innovate members and partners:
  • Big Data and the Translation Industry: Three Technology Challenges by Andrew Joscelyne, LT Innovate
  • Finding New Business Segments Through Big Data by Michael Wetzel, Coreon GmbH & Matthias Heyn, SDL plc
  • How to Improve Your Relationship with Machine Translation co-authored by Heidi Depraetere, CrossLang
  • Unlocking Language Resource Assets by Christian Galinski, Infoterm
  • Riga Summit Forges a Unified Vision for Multilingual Europe by Rihards Kalniņš, Tilde

08 June 2015

Highlights of the LT-Innovate Summit - Brussels, 25-26 June 2015


The fourth edition of the LT-Innovate Summit, the yearly point of convergence of the Language Technology industry, will take place in Brussels on 25-26 June 2015. It will benefit of the presence of leading policy makers:

  • Paul Rübig, Member of the European Parliament
  • Alexander De Croo, Vice Prime Minister of Belgium, Minister for the Digital Agenda
  • Robert Madelin, Director General, European Commission, DG CONNECT

Launch of the LTI Cloud

Jochen Hummel, LT-Innovate Chairman:

"We are launching the LTI Cloud on 26 June as a major new initiative that has the potential to benefit all our members. The aim of the LTI Cloud is to create a SaaS wrapper around language technology components developed by LT-Innovate members. It will make it easy for entrepreneurs, start-ups, software developers, IT departments, system integrators, and many others to source & plug ‘n’ play language technology components, allowing them to focus on their core business and competencies. Join us to find out more and make the LTI Cloud a success!"

See call for collaboration - Join us to launch the LTI Cloud!
Join us to Launch the LTI Cloud!
Join us to Launch the LTI Cloud!


LT CEO Summit and Industry Challenges

As every year, we have lined up a roster of "challengers":
  • Christian Dirschl, Chief Content Architect, Wolters Kluwer Deutschland GmbH
  • Florence Beaujard, Head of Linguistics and Physiology for Cockpit Design, Airbus
  • Armin Hopp, Founder, Speexx
  • Christophe Leclercq, Founder, EurActiv

These high level industry executives will provide an overview of their company's current and future needs from a language technology point of view. Do not miss the opportunity to participate in these forward looking "challenges".

LT-Innovate Award 2015

Discover "The Best in LT", network with entrepreneurs, experts and investors... and celebrate the Winners of our prestigious industry Award.

Workshop on the future of conversational interaction technologies

We are collaborating with leading academics to prepare a Research and Innovation Roadmap for multilingual and multimodal conversational technologies. The current version of the roadmap is available at citia.eu.

The main goal of the workshop is to collect feedback and recommendations on (1) refining the research & innovation scenarios; (2) mechanisms to bridge the gap between research (including cognitive sciences) & innovation; (3) further development of the stakeholder community; and (4) how to develop a startup culture to bridge the gap between the excellent research base and commercial reality.

Workshop on language resources: foundations of the multilingual digital single market

This workshop aims at identifying concrete scenarios for the improvement of the usability of Language Resources (LR). It is split into 3 interrelated panels: LR demand, LR supply and Matching LR offer to demand. Panelists from industry, research and the public sector will, in particular, discuss the following questions:
  • How can LR identification become a more streamlined, accessible and easily achieved activity?
  • Where and how can LRs be found and identified to solve a specific MT problem?
  • Who would be able to do the work as a service?
  • How can terminology of a given field and text data relevant to the same field be found online in a dependable way?
  • What are the major barriers for finding and using LRs from existing repositories?
  • What would be best ways to overcome these barriers?

Check out the full programme and register here!

30 April 2015

Broad Language Industry Coalition launches Call for Action: The Digital Single Market Must Be Multilingual!

At the occasion of the Riga Summit on the Multilingual Digital Single Market, held on 27-29 April 2015, a broad coalition of organisations representing the language industries came together to sign a Declaration of Common Interest.

The Riga Summit also launched a Call for Action entitled "Multilingual Europe: The Crowning Touch to the Digital Single Market".

The Declaration and Call for Action emphasise the importance of language technologies as key enablers for a truly multilingual Digital Single Market.

For additional media coverage of the Riga Summit, see "Babelitious" in The Economist, "Will the Digital Single Market be multilingual?", "Europe needs a language infrastructure, not just Google Translate" (interview of Jochen Hummel, ESTeam) and "Smaller languages could be lost in the Digital Single Market" (interview of Andrejs Vasiljevs, Tilde) in EurActiv.

29 March 2015

Data, architectures, and other forms of cooperation

In my last blog post, I argued that Europe can't win the game of who can field the best-known, most widely used smart personal assistant – and since these assistants are really impersonal, we wouldn't want to. We want an eco-system of companies doing what they do best: spotting a need, filling it well, and cooperating with each other.

We talked at the ROCKIT Roadmap Conference about data and infrastructure and necessary connections, but here I have to tread on dangerous territory – by tying lots of things together into a story about practical action for CITIA to take. All the bits of the story come from someone who was there, but do they work together to make what we need?

One of the recurring themes of the conference is that we need to share data with each other so that all of our algorithms and products improve. This needs to start with academics. Many academics feel that data collected using public resources should be public. That doesn't make releasing it easy. It's very difficult to make scientists, who are always chasing the next publishable result, stop before the end of a project so that they have enough resource left to package the data, set license terms, and release it. 

Anonymization can be both necessary, and expensive – especially since there isn't general agreement about what level of certainty is legally acceptable. In addition, postdoctoral researchers and students often don't have the skills to do a decent job on packaging. They have trouble thinking like someone who doesn't already understand what they've produced, so their documentation can be very poor indeed. I think this is an important part of any future job – academic or otherwise – so training is part of the solution. However, I also think data repositories need enough support to be able to curate the good from the bad and quality check packaging in time that data producers can correct it.

I also think it's hard to engineer data sharing among companies – but we did generally agree that the best way to make headway is to start working together to target our customer contacts, picking off each vertical separately. I actually think if this were to happen, the data sharing would come as a side effect. So the main action here is finding out how CITIA can encourage this kind of working together, rather than thinking about data itself.

Another recurring theme was that we need open architectures and at least de facto standards, so that academics and businesses can each concentrate on the part they do best. That's great, but it has to get less vague very quickly. We've agreed that will be an important part of our work in the second year of our support action, but what are the best actions that actually fit a relatively small budget we have to achieve the results we need? When I get stuck on big problems like this, I try to think about the nearest successful analogue to the problem at hand, and the history of how that collaborative system emerged. What is the most similar story we can think of – some major open source system like Wordpress? Solutions from the logistics industry? I'm really not sure, myself, but someone must have a better vision than I do. Let us know!

Jean Carletta,  Edinburgh University

26 March 2015

Europe's Digital Single Market must be multilingual!

Vice-President A. Ansip and R. Kalniņš
More than 3000 members and stakeholders of Europe's Language Community signed an Open Letter to the European Commission: "Europe's Digital single market must be multilingual". On the occasion of an official lunch in Riga on 26 March 2015, Rihards Kalniņš, Marketing Communications Manager at TILDE handed the Open Letter with  more than 3000 printed signatures to Andrus Ansip, Vice-President of the European Commission.  The latter expressed his awareness of the multilingual challenge in building  the Digital Single Market, was impressed by the number of signatures and asked for further input from Europe's Language Community.

15 March 2015

Do we really want smart personal assistants?

During the ROCKIT Roadmap Conference in February, I was designated to take notes and summarize the results of the session for scenario 2, “smart personal assistants.” That's harder than it sounds! I think the most important thing we learned was that whether European businesses will be successful in this emerging technology area is highly dependent on the business models they adopt and the culture that develops in Europe around them.

When people think about smart personal assistants, they immediately assume that the goal is to build a rival to things like Siri – an engine that can assist any user on a wide range of topics. This is actually a no-go strategy for European business for two reasons.

The first is that it's not the European way. This kind of generic personal assistant makes a great sales vehicle for global giants, but is poor at delivering what the customer actually wants. By its very nature, it's really more of a smart *im*personal agent on commission. Historically, European businesses have been based on a strong business-to-business orientation. They understand their local contexts and verticals well, and provide better end-user products and services because of it. Their offerings are niche – sometimes so niche they're just ways of getting around the limitations in some technology one of the giants has been pushing – but there's no shame in that. It may not be the way to fast growth and glitzy headlines, but I for one would rather provide genuinely useful products and services. Couple that with the fact that it's what we do well and there's really no question about the right approach.

The second reason why it's a bad strategy for our community is that even if we wanted too, we couldn't compete for one simple reason – data. These systems work because the giants fielded them among enthusiasts when they were just “good enough”, and improved them massively with larger and larger amounts of data as their use grew. Yes, we need to do more to share data among ourselves, and yes, we may well have better machine learning – but they have first starter advantage. The group consensus was that it would take us ten years before we were ready to start thinking about fielding a rival system, by which time the world will look completely different.

Once we recognize that this is the shape of the game that we're in, it tells us much more about what kind of community infrastructure and cooperation we need to create in order to support each other and do better all round. That will be the subject of my next blog post.

Jean Carletta, University of Edinburgh

We invite stakeholders of all kinds to comment on these views, whether or not they were at the Roadmap Conference - are they right? Please use the comment facility below.

13 February 2015

A glance at the latest and most comprehensive Roadmap for Conversational Interaction Technologies

The CITIA Roadmap Conference, with an impressive line-up of speakers and panellists, is around the corner (24-25 Feb in Brussels). We are excited to announce that the first version of the ROCKIT strategic roadmap, which will drive many of the sessions of the upcoming Conference and used to set the priorities of CITIA, is now available to view online.

To main goal of the roadmap is to engage public or private research organisations, including SMEs, into a constructive discussion towards full exploitation of new conversational interaction technologies. The roadmap should enable our community to compare prominent use cases, products and services, science and engineering capabilities, as well as readiness, needs and timeframes for future R&D. Entrepreneurs and researchers can use it to focus their R&D, partnerships and related strategic efforts.

This first version of the roadmap is the result of an on-going (2-year) consultative process which in its first year alone involved over 100 experts who provided their input during five physical workshops organised in conjunction with major sector events. For the science/technology areas alone, some 1,000 inputs were captured during these workshops. All those inputs were clustered, filtered and linked together across several layers, including:
  • 10 societal Drivers & Constraints
  • 5 generic R&D Scenarios
  • 10 Product/Service Types, with the added value, a SWOT analysis and a 10 year timeline for each of them.
  • 8 Science/Technology Areas, with cluster and 10 year timelines for each of them.
  • 7 Resource Types

The graphical version as well as a presentation of the first version of the roadmap is easily accessible via http://tinyurl.com/ROCKIT-v1

Figure 1 Initial view showing five interrelated layers.

The initial view (depicted in Figure 1) shows the main interacting layers, including: Drivers & Constraints (the “why”); Scenarios; Product/Service Types (the “what”); Science/Technology Areas (the “how”); and Resources. By hovering over any item, one may choose to see either a) a short description of that item or b) the cross-layer relationships with other items.

Clicking on any of the Product/Service Types or Science/Technology Areas allows drilling down to detailed information such as a SWOT analysis of a Product/Service Type (Figure 2), or the foreseen 10 year timeline for a particular Science/Technology Area (Figure 3).

Figure 2 The SWOT analysis of Generic Personal Assistants, under Product/Service Types.

Figure 3 The 10 year timeline of the Natural Language Interpretation & Generation, under Science/Technology Areas.

We now very much encourage discussions around the roadmap’s contents before, during or after the Conference. We are particularly interested in:
  • Verifying relationships between items
  • Establishing their readiness levels as well as
  • Measuring their expected social and economic impact.

If you want to be involved, just create a free account and visit the roadmap to add your comments and cast your votes.

Article contributed by Costis Kompis, Vodera

Costis Kompis is the managing partner of Vodera, a company that supports private and public organisations align their R&D activities, develop innovation strategies for emerging technologies and design new business models to capture market opportunities.