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Lobby 7 Computer Pyramid Translates Trans-Atlantically

By Brett Altschul
STAFF REPORTER

The pyramid structure that has graced Lobby 7 for the last week went into full operation yesterday. A computer terminal inside was connected to the Modern Art Museum in Lyon, France as part of the Lyon Third International Art Biennial, a modern art exhibition.

Microphones allow the transmission of human speech across the Atlantic Ocean, from Lobby 7 to Lyon. The words are translated by computer and are both displayed on the screen and generated by a voice synthesizer, in either a masculine, feminine or childlike voice, depending on the speaker. This allows real-time communication between people on distant continents.

Cameras in Lobby 7 and the museum foyer send visual images between the sites. There are two cameras in each location, one showing the entire room, the other showing a view of the person at the terminal.

The computer display presents a split view, with images of the people at either end and each person's words in both French and English.

Although the connection was established on Tuesday, problems plagued the initial transmission, said Piotr Kowalski, an artist affiliated with the Center for Advanced Visual Studies.

"We're getting about 20 to 50 percent recognition with the translation," said Jeffrey C. Krause G, a technical worker on the project. "The translator works fine for what we're doing now - just one or two sentences at a time."

The system makes use of two computers at each end, one for transforming spoken words to written text and one for translating between French and English. The information is sent digitally over the Internet.

Kowalski is directing the project in association with the Center for Advanced Visual Studies and the School of Architecture and Planning. "It's basically an attempt to help communication," said Krause.

The computers at MIT are housed within a wood and plastic pyramid that will be sealed when the connection is not operating. The setup in Lyon is less elaborate with just a plain casing for the computer, Krause said.

The hookup will remain in Lobby 7 through next week and will be at various places around the Institute until Feb. 18. Because of the six- hour time difference between here and Lyon, the connection operates only from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each week day, except Mondays.