By Will Garside
The launch by IBM of machine language translation software this week marks the move of this previously niche technology into the mainstream.
Websphere Translation Server is designed for enterprise customers who want to dynamically translate textual content, and supports seven European and three Asian languages including Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
An early pioneer for Websphere is Deutsche Bank, which is deploying the server as part of its Global Private Banking intranet project to be used by 65,000 employees across the world.
Analyst Bola Rotibi at Ovum commented, "IBM are not alone in this quite small market. Companies such as Systran SA and Transparent Language have been dominant players in this field for some time. IBM's new product does signify the growing importance of this market."
Market research firm IDC predicts that the market for machine translation will be worth $378m by 2003.
An example of the technology's application is the chat room, where skilled human interpreters are normally required to buffer conversations, charging for translation services on a per hour or per word basis. IBM claims the product can convert text from emails, web pages and real time chat at up to 500 words per second.
Brian Garr, programme manager for advanced voice technologies at IBM, conceded that the software would not be able to cope with idiomatic use of language in the way a human interpreter could. "What we're offering is science not art."
However Ovum's Rotibi warned, "Even with the Websphere Translation Server in place, good design practices need to be maintained as graphics and animations are not converted."