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The METEO System is a machine translation system specifically designed for the translation of the weather forecasts issued daily by Environment Canada. The system was used from 1981 to the 30th of September 2001 by Environment Canada to translate forecasts issued in French in the province of Quebec into English and those issued in English in other Canadian provinces into French. Since then, a competitor program has replaced METEO System after an open governmental bid.
The system was developed by John Chandioux and was often mentioned as one of the few success stories in the field of machine translation. However, the lost of its main contract shows that METEO System is not alone anymore.
The METEO System is a Very High Quality Machine Translation system for weather bulletins that has been in operational use at Envinonnement Canada from 1982 to 2001. It stems from a prototype developed in 1975-76 by the TAUM Group, known as TAUM-METEO. As many authors confuse the prototype with the actual system, a bit of history is in order.
The initial motivation to develop that prototype was that a junior translator came to TAUM to ask for help in doing the extremely boring (and at the same time difficult) job of translating weather bulletins at Environment Canada he had to do at the moment.
Indeed, since all official communications emanating from the Canadian government must be available in French and English, because of the official bilingual services act of 1968, and weather bulletins represent a large amount of translation in real time, junior translators had to spend several months of purgatory producing first draft translations, then revised by seniors. That was in fact a quite difficult job, because of the specificities of the English and French sublanguages used, and not very motivating, as the lifetime of a bulletin is only 4 hours.
TAUM proposed to build a prototype MT system, and Environment Canada accepted to fund the project. A prototype was ready after a few months, with a crude integration in the workflow of translation (source and target bulletins travelled over telex lines at the time and MT happened on a mainframe). The first version of the system (METEO 1) went into operation on a Control Data 7600 supercomputer in March 1977.
John Chandioux then left the TAUM group to manage its operation and improve it, while the TAUM group embarked on a very different project (TAUM-aviation, 1977–81). With Benoit Thouin and one year later alone, he made lots of improvements to the initial prototype, and transformed it into a really operational system. After 3 years, METEO 1 has demonstrated the feasibility of microcomputer-based machine translation to the satisfaction of the Canadian government's Translation Bureau.
METEO 1 was formally adopted in 1981, replacing the junior translators in the workflow. Because of the need for very high quality, the revision step, done by senior translators, was maintained. The quality, measured as the percentage of edit operations (inserting or deleting a word counts as 1, replacing as 2) on the MT results, reached 85% in 1985.
Until that time, the MT part was still implemented as a sequence of Q-systems. The Q-systems formalism is a rule-based SLLP (Specialized Language for Linguistic Programming) invented by Alain Colmerauer in 1967 as he was a postdoc coopérant at the TAUM group. (He invented the famous Prolog language in 1972 after returning to France and becoming a university professor in Marseille-Luminy.)
As the engine of the Q-systems is highly non-deterministic, and the manipulated data structures are in some way too simple, without any types such as string or number, J. Chandioux encountered limitations in his efforts to raise translation quality and lower computation time to the point he could run it on microcomputers.
In 1981, he decided to create a new SLLP, or metalanguage for linguistic applications, based on the same basic algorithmic ideas as the Q-systems, but more deterministic, and offering typed labels on tree nodes. Following the advices of Bernard Vauquois and Alain Colmerauer, he created GramR, and developed it for microcomputers.
In 1982, he could start developing in GramR a new system for translating the weather bulletins on a high-end Cromemco microcomputer. METEO 2 went into operation in 1983. The software then ran in 48Kb of central memory with a 5Mb hard disk for paging. METEO 2 is believed to have been the first MT application to run on a microcomputer.
In 1985, the system had nothing left of the initial prototype, and was officially renamed METEO. It translated about 20 M words per year from English into French, and 10 M words from French into English, with a quality of 97%. Typically, it took only 4 minutes for a bulletin in English to be sent from Winnipeg and come back in French after MT and human revision.
In 1996, John Chandioux developed a special version of his system (METEO 96) which was used to translate the weather forecasts (different kinds of bulletins) issued by the US Weather Service during the Atlanta Olympic Games.
The latest known version of the system, METEO 5, dates from 1997 and ran on a standard IBM PC network under Windows NT. It translated 10 pages per second, while occupying so little space that it fit on a 1.44Mb diskette.
- Sergei Nirenburg (1993). Progress in machine translation. IOS Press. pp. 246–. ISBN 978-90-5199-074-4. Retrieved 14 April 2010.
- PROCUREMENT PROCESS by Canadian International Trade Tribunal, July 30, 2002, consulted 2007-02-10