Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Imperative of a Multilingual Digital Single Market

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President of the European Commission, has been tasked to make sure that every EU citizens gets the best deal online no matter in which country and what language is spoken. He published a post on his blog addressing multilingualism as a barrier to the Digital Single Market, that hardly gets a mention. The post does not go into any specifics as to how to tackle this challenge. Nevertheless it is a great step forward that he raises awareness because also Biz and Tech seem to think the world speaks only one language.

Turning Point

VP Andrus’ post could be a turning point, because so far decision makers have shied away from the language challenge. Understandably, since it can be thorny and technologically hard. But it is what it is, language is the main barrier to the Digital Single Market. Currently game-changing IT products work only in English. Most European countries, their industries, and their citizens are basically excluded from the data revolution. Without an interoperable eGov Europe will continue to attempt solving crises top-down and fail.

VP Andrus Ansip writes: "We should recognize that language differences can also act as a barrier, and increase the fragmentation of markets – which is what the DSM is trying to prevent. 
This is especially true when it comes to maintaining 24 language versions of your website and also providing after-sales services in the same multitude of languages. It means that multilingualism can come with a price tag that turns it into a business hurdle."

Use Language Technology

He states further: "We are well supported in this task by EU countries and by the language technology industry."

Yes, but developing software which can process textual information, in other words human communication, is hard. Companies have to build it button-up language for language.

We need a basic infrastructure to be able to process textual information in all official EU languages and those of Europe’s main trading partners. I am foreseeing a European Language Cloud which provides the basic Natural Language Processing (NLP) thru an API for all languages, in the same quality, under the same favorable terms.

Half of Data Textual, i.e. Multilingual

He continues: "Or take data analytics, a fast-growing and important sector for the DSM."

Data driven solutions will indeed define the future. But only if we can make sense of all that data; at least half of it being textual, cross-border always multilingual. We need an open knowledge system for all government organizations. Such infrastructure enables meanings to be carried cross-language via sector specific knowledge structures linked to their multilingual expressions.

Multilingualism a Competitive Advantage

At the end he closes how I often like to end my presentations: "Overcoming language barriers is vital for building the DSM, which is by definition multilingual. It is now time to reduce and remove the language barriers that are holding back its advance, and turn them into competitive advantages."

Indeed, a challenge is always also an opportunity. The Swiss got this and attribute one tenth of Swiss GDP to multilingualism. We have great companies and minds to take on the challenge to create a multilingual Digital Single Market. So that all citizens can benefit and Europe gains leadership in the global market.

Jochen Hummel, CEO and Chairman LT-Innovate

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Lack of Cross-border Interoperability Undermining the EU

We want to point you to an important publication - the EU eGovernment Action Plan 2016-2020 that targets cross-border interoperability, out of necessity in a dysfunctional European Union. This comes late after many years of lobbying from so many
stakeholders, also ourselves with many posts on this issue.

Cross-Border interoperability will build a great EU. At the same time the lack of it is costing the EU a fortune in consulting fees on obtaining specific legislative and operational information that is actually already available in EU repositories. It is a big business to package and serve the EU their own information. Cross-border interoperability is the main prerequisite to tackle the most burning challenges of the Union, which can only be solved by working closer together. Instead citizens are currently experiencing the opposite. The lack of cross-border interoperability plays into the hands of the Brexit campaigners.

The Action Plan states Interoperability and Cross-border by default: public administrations should make relevant digital public services available across borders and prevent further fragmentation to arise, thereby facilitating mobility within the Single Market."

As stated in many previous posts, cross-border interoperability can be achieved by multilingual knowledge systems (MKS). A great example of such an MKS is TMClass. The EUIPO has created an MKS which enables business to register intellectual property for forty nine countries. National administrations for intellectual property are thus fully interoperable, regardless of language. TMClass is probably the largest cross-border interoperability asset in the world.

Public administrations in EU countries are often more similar than they appear. But there are differences and of course they work in their own languages. An MKS provides the means to search across multiple languages and to link and explore the knowledge structures which relate the different concepts and meanings. This makes it possible to map across different domains in national public administrations as well as different countries. Cross-border interoperability will help us to move closer again to progress on the European vision of being united in diversity.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Language - The New Frontier

Language, the new frontier? If you ask people in the street they might shake their heads. That’s because language comes so natural to us humans. Also, many believe Google Translate has fixed it. Most of our European decision makers tend to think so as well. They could or should know better.
Take the celebrated Digital Single Market. Cross-border e-commerce is minuscule. In this key growth market Europe is totally fragmented by country. The Commission has identified several barriers: Data Protection, VAT, shipment costs. All important, but each of them could be solved at a green table. The Council would only need to withstand lobbyists and pass the regulation proposed by European Parliament. The Commission would need to retract the VAT mess it created itself a while ago. Overprized shipments are, like before the insane roaming fees, a result of privatized monopolies that need to be resolved the same way. A much tougher barrier to cross-border e-commerce, though, is Europe’s multilingualism. A frontier only few dare to cross.
We hit the language frontier also in E-Government. Countries have grown together. Citizens have benefitted from this to a degree, that today we take most achievements for granted: easy travel, inexpensive foreign goods, or studying and working abroad. But the EU has often made the second step before the first one. We have introduced a common currency without making our banking interoperable. We have removed border controls although our social and security systems hardly interact. Cross-border Interoperability is difficult and requires much more than translation. Particular translations made by machines can only play a supporting role in a more elaborate solution.
Also Business is leaving the vast land behind that frontier to some brave enterprises. Only slowly CEOs begin really to understand how Social Media has changed the playing field. Most still think that it’s good enough to speak the customer’s language. Localize the company’s content and broadcast it, like it’s been done for decades, if not centuries. The future winners, though, realize that they also must understand what their customers talk about on all these new channels; of course in their mother tongues.
And finally Technology. Artificial Intelligence will change everything. Some skeptics even think it’s our last invention. In any case, we are not going to type commands into robots or self-driving cars. We will talk to AI. Language will be the UI. Also, as it has been dramatically shown by the human defeat in Go, knowledge driven learning is the key to AI. Most of our knowledge is stored in textual form, i.e. language.
So, yes, language is the new frontier. It's bizarre that Europe is not fully behind this. Action is required by business and the public sector. Otherwise we will have to license also this key technology from the usual suppliers.
This is a slightly modified version of the editorial in the brochure to the 2016 LT Industry Summit by LT Innovate's Chairman and CEO Jochen Hummel.