Friday 17th November 2017 found us in London attending the Association internationale pour la promotion des technologies Linguistiques (#ASLING) 39th Translating and the Computer conference (#TC39). The conference is held annually in London at the Insititute of Mechanical Engineers on Birdcage Walk under the watchful eye of George Stephenson whose portrait hangs in the conference room.

The conference attracts a wide following of computational linguists and translators in equal measure representing academic researchers, commercial translation providers and government agencies including EU and UN translation services. In this the TC conference is, in our experience, a unique blend of research, reality and pragmatism and as such it represents a highly knowledgable arena within which to present our work for peer review.

We have presented here on many occasions (see: publication list) and our work has always been well received (as evidenced by the number of return invitations we get). This year we presented our early research on Learning from Sparse Data or, as we call it, Project Paddington. We were not at all sure how well this would go down. The peer reviewers’ comments on our paper had not been entirely enthusiastic, not least because the approach we are working with is, for good reasons, diametrically opposed to most current research in Machine Translation. Some of the reviewers clearly felt we ought to fall into line. So it was with a little trepidation that Jon clambered onto the rostrum to present our paper in the very last session of the conference.

To our relief (and, to be honest, some surprise) the response was enthusiastic. The first comment during questions came from the CEO of a commercial MT provider who thanked us for the paper and then went on to say, “this is fantastic work, I have always felt that this kind of model is how our systems should be approaching language learning, it just feels right and now you have demonstrated that it can work! I am going to model this as soon as possible, thank you”! Further, equally supportive questions and comments followed until the session had to be closed to allow the conference as a whole to be formally ended. As we left the building half an hour later we were still in deep discussion with other delegates about our work including the conference key note speaker, Prof. Alexander Waibel from Carnegie Mellon University International Center (sic) for Advanced Communication Technologies, who identified many points of contact with the work of his department and mainstream MT challenges.

All in all, it was a very pleasing outcome and we came away much encouraged that our recent research is very much at the forefront of developing language technologies.