Creating AI-Enabled Cultural Interpreters to Aid Defense Operations

The Department of Defense (DoD) is one of many government agencies that operates globally and is in constant contact with diverse cultures. Communicative understanding, not simply of local languages but also of social customs and cultural backgrounds, lies at the heart of Civil Affairs and Military Information Support Operations activities. These collectively comprise a vast majority of U.S. counterinsurgency and stabilization efforts. Within these activities, cross-cultural miscommunication can derail negotiations, incite hostile discourse – even lead to war. The likelihood of communicative failure increases dramatically where significant social, cultural, or ideological differences exist.

Automated systems would be a welcome force-multiplier for DoD interpreters. However, unlike the human cultural interpreters who enable U.S. forces today, current AI-enabled systems are incapable of accurately analyzing cross-cultural communication or providing useful assistance beyond basic machine translation. While there have been significant advances made in machine learning and multimedia analysis, a number of critical deficiencies in these systems still remain.

“To support users engaged in cross-cultural dialogue, AI-enabled systems need to go beyond providing language translation – they need to leverage deep social and cultural understanding to assist communication,” said Dr. William Corvey, a program manager in DARPA’s Information Innovation Office (I2O). “Moving AI from a tool to a partner in this capacity will require significant advances in our machines’ ability to discover and interpret sociocultural factors, recognize emotions, detect shifts in communication styles, and provide dialogue assistance when miscommunications seem imminent – all in real-time.”

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