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Old January 17 2008, 08:51 PM   #1
Rear Admiral
On The Road To A Universal Translator

The LAPD Phraselator isn't quite the Universal Translator of Star Trek, but it's a step on the path towards development of one.

As reported in the L.A. Times, sometimes communication can be an issue in a city where two hundred and twenty-four languages are spoken. Not being able to communicate properly can lead to problems, such as happened in Los Angeles last May when a disturbance based on communication difficulties caused a melee which lead to injuries.

The Phraselator, a somewhat clunky hand-held device, enables officers to translate and broadcast thousands of prerecorded phrases in many languages. Developed for use in Afghanistan and Iraq by American soldiers who used it to communicate in Farsi and other local languages, it has proved to be a lifesaver in Los Angeles, aiding in situations where communication in other languages is needed.

"It is not quite like that translator thing on 'Star Trek'," said LA police Captain Dennis Kato. "It's a step or two away. But when it comes to crowd control, natural disasters or medical emergencies, it can be a lifesaver."

The Phraselator isn't a complete solution to communication difficulties. It can only be used in one-way translation. It can give phrases in another language, but it can't decipher responses. But the Phraselator has its uses, being used in places that are dangerous for human translators, such as being in the line of fire in a war.

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