October 27, 2006:
The U.S. Army is sending yet another language-translation device to the troops. This one, called Mastor (Multilingual Automatic Speech-to-Speech Translator), is translation software that does not, as in the past, require the user to speak a long list of words and phrases into a microphone, to enable the software could fully understand your particular voice. The latest software (which has been shipping for about a year now) understand anyone (well, almost anyone) immediately. The software can be used in most laptops, all you need is a good microphone.
Language translation devices have been available since the beginning of the Iraq war. Most were hand-held PDA system that held a bunch of commonly used phrases. The user selected the English language version, and the PDA would speak it out loud in, say, Arabic. It was crude, but it was useful, and the troops liked it. However, a human translator was much preferred, as you could only do so much with a list of words and phrases. Mastor is basically a robot (in the form of a laptop computer) translator. The English and Arabic person speaks to it, is understood, and has their speech translated. In addition to the synthetic speech, the conversation is also stored as text, which makes it even more useful for official business. The Mastor translation is crude, but serviceable, compared to a human translator.
Mastor will be used in hospitals and other places where American and Iraqis (and soon, Afghans) need to speak with each other. There are never enough translators to go around, and Mastor will take up some of the slack.