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We can't confess to being fully aware of the dangers of working as a battle-zone translator in Iraq, but we've got a pretty good idea, so we're happy to know that Darpa is funding research into a laptop based system for voice to voice translation. A follow-up to the ever popular PDA-based "Phraselator", the new system being tested doesn't rely on the literacy of the participant, or on their proclivity to handheld devices. To translate, the system takes the spoken words, transcribes and translates them with some help from the statistics of relevant phrases, and then outputs the communication audibly in the other language, English to Arabic or vice versa. Obviously this isn't nearly to the point of a replacement for the real deal, but it should work as a solution for some basic situations… basic situations that are about to become much more entertaining due to rampant communication errors.

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Darpa testing laptop-based translation system for Iraq