META-FORUM 2010: a short report
META-FORUM 2010 took place on November 17 and 18, 2010 in the European capital, Brussels. This was the first large outreach event organised by META-NET, a Network of Excellence forging the Multilingual Europe Technology Alliance (META). Against the backdrop of a cold and foggy autumn day outside, the historic “Theatre” hall of the Hotel Le Plaza provided a fitting venue for the event and welcome respite from the elements outside. Here, assembled for META-FORUM 2010, the inaugural conference of the META-FORUM series of events, were more than 250 participants from a total of 37 countries – a turnout far exceeding our expectations.
As the name suggests, META-FORUM serves as a gathering point, a hub for diverse communities of interest to meet and discuss developments, problems and opportunities presented by the challenges of a modern and multilingual Europe. In front of the Theatre, the foyer played host to many diverse presentations from ten partner projects highlighting their plans and details of collaboration with META-NET. Alongside these presentations, software demonstrations from within META-NET itself complemented the picture by showcasing the open resource exchange infrastructure META-SHARE, the Virtual Information Centre and the first results of the Machine Translation research arm of the META-NET initiative.
In his welcome address, MEP and former foreign minister of Lithuania Algirdas Saudargas, conveyed the clear and direct message that language must be handled with the utmost care because it is a strong but also fragile band that ties together communities, social groups, and even nations. In his address Roberto Cencioni (European Commission, Luxembourg) echoed this sentiment with his advice to stakeholders from Language Technology research and development that this highly fragmented sector has to join forces to reach critical mass and that it has to improve its credibility and visibility. Hans Uszkoreit (DFKI, Germany), the coordinator of META-NET, took up the same topic when he introduced the three lines of action the initiative pursues to reach exactly these strategic goals: building bridges to neighbouring technology fields, designing and implementing META-SHARE, the open resource exchange facility, and building a homogeneous European LT community with a shared vision and strategic research agenda.
The first invited keynote speech highlighted accessibility and multilingualism as key challenges for the audiovisual industry in the digital age. In her speech, Yota Georgakopoulou (European Captioning Institute, UK) left no doubt that in the near future there will be an immense economic need within the audiovisual sector to make use of various Language Technology applications.
In the session entitled “From Shared Visions to a Strategic Research Agenda” industry representatives and language professionals that had been invited by META-NET into three think tanks – Vision Groups – presented the results of their first two rounds of meetings. These presentations then served as a platform for introducing the panel session that followed. The session was lively and informative and raised some interesting points of view and new insights. The discussion is now continued in an online forum and will, together with input and feedback collected through several other means, ultimately lead to the vision paper “European Multilingual Information Society 2020” and a Strategic Research Agenda. If you are interested in the needs and visions that have been and will be further discussed in the Vision Groups, you are encouraged to visit the online forum where you can join in and contribute to the discussions.
Georg Artelsmair (European Patent Office, Germany) presented recent developments concerning the machine translation policy at the European Patent Office in the second invited keynote speech. The EPO has become a heavy user of multilingual Language Technology in recent years and they anticipate that the demand will only increase. Concluding the first day, Bill Dolan (Microsoft Research, USA) highlighted the need for and the opportunities to be gained through close cooperation between industry and the research community, especially regarding the importance of sharing not just technology but also data.
During the second (half) day of META-FORUM 2010 the floor was given over to companies that either employ or build Language Technologies. Seven industry representatives formulated their needs, problems, and wishes for European LT research and development. In a first step to help strengthen the industry community, Jochen Hummel (ESTeam GmbH, Germany) introduced the Language Technology Business Association (LTBA), which is currently in a preparatory phase and will be officially launched at the beginning of 2011. John Hendrik Weitzmann (Creative Commons Initiative, Germany) and Prodromos Tsiavos (Creative Commons Initiative, Greece, UK, Norway) addressed some of the problems and solutions regarding legal issues in basic and industrial research on Language Technology. Their talk highlighted how best to approach the sharing of Language Resources through META-SHARE.
The closing keynote address from Swaran Lata (Department of Information Technology, Government of India, New Delhi) provided an overview of numerous multilingual initiatives in India in the past 20 years. She presented how India, with its 22 languages (and various different scripts), can serve as a blueprint to European initiatives towards multilingualism and LT supported language initiatives.
META-FORUM 2010 may be over, but the work continues in earnest. The next META-FORUM will take place in Budapest on June 27th and 28th 2011. Details will be published as they become available. In the meantime there are many ways in which you can keep in touch and stay informed about our work. The Multilingual Europe Technology Alliance, META, has launched. You can join online and please get involved in the discussions in our forums which will help continue the work begun at META-FORUM 2010. Find us on Facebook and Linked In to keep up to date with the latest news and developments, and to connect with other members. The META-NET website is regularly updated with new content and news. Here you can also find the calendar of events not just for META and META-NET but also the whole Language Technology community so check back regularly for updates.