5 questions with… Peggy van der Kreeft

Peggy van der Kreeft discussing DW’s human language technology projects at Global Media Forum 2017


The news.bridge consortium consists of four partners: Deutsche Welle (DW), the Latvian News Agency (LETA), the Laboratoire d’Informatique de l’Université du Mans (LIUM), and Priberam. We are all part of the media and tech industry in some way, we’re all fascinated by what cutting-edge human language technology (HLT) can do, and we’re all dedicated to this DNI project. Other than that, we’re actually pretty different organizations and people with a wide range of interests and a distinctive set of skills. So we figured it would be a good idea to sit down, ask the four team leaders a couple of questions — and give you some more insights on who is doing what exactly, and why it’s all worthwile.

For the first of part of this series of posts, we’ve talked to Peggy van der Kreeft, an experienced linguist and innovation manager, who is running news.bridge at DW.

Peggy, when and how did you first get in touch with human language technology (HLT)?

That was is in the early 1980s, believe it or not, during my postgraduate on “Translating at European Level” at the University of Louvain. I tried out early machine translation (MT) systems like SYSTRAN. Later on, in the 90s, I used Babel Fish while working at an American translation and documentation center. The first research project at Deutsche Welle that focused on MT was CoSyne, which ran from 2010 to 2013. Among other things, we experimented with translating DW’s Today in History. The quality wasn’t good enough for direct publication, but there was always post editing, and we already succeeded in making the translation process a little more efficient. My first experience with automated speech recognition (ASR) and speech-to-text (STT) was in the scope of project AXES (2011-2015). This one was about finding novel ways to explore and interact with audiovisual libraries. The platform itself wasn’t sophisticated enough for use in a real production environment, but it certainly showed the power of HLT — which has been a focus topic of our department (DW Research & Cooperation Projects) ever since.

What is the most fascinating aspect about news.bridge?

There are many fascinating aspects, so it’s really hard to choose one. Perhaps the most striking thing is that the platform is so powerful, even though it’s based on a fairly simple concept. news.bridge covers virtually any language, and through the use of external tools, it remains state of the art.

What is the project’s biggest challenge?

Well, the overall challenge is to make news.bridge stable, scalable and provide a smooth workflow for the entire process of creating subtitles (and voice-overs). A challenge we’re currently focusing on is the seamless ingestion of existing scripts — which are rarely standardized. However, using original scripts (instead of ASR/STT) always leads to the best results, so we need to work on this.

Who’s in your team and what are they currently working on?

Here at DW, we’re currently four people: Ruben Bouwmeester, Hina Imran, Alexander Plaum, and myself. Ruben, who joined the project very recently, works on the project’s business development and marketing plan. He also makes sure we always have professionally designed dissemination material. Hina is our developer. She works on customized user interfaces for HLT applications and output, coordinating technical issues with LETA and within DW. She also manages and maintains a local test installation of news.bridge. Alex is in charge of communication and dissemination. He runs our website, this blog, and our Twitter account. He also works on brand design and sometimes acquires new partners. As for me, I am the HLT lead at our department and also the main coordinator of news.bridge. That means I take care of operations, oversee and report progress, organize user testing and plan implementation.

Where do you see news.bridge in five years?

news.bridge has already attracted quite a bit of attention. Many broadcasters, news producers and language technology providers are interested in implementing it as soon as possible. Multilingual content has become very important, and news.bridge will significantly speed up production workflows — with modest investment costs. We hope we’ll be able to offer a reliable service — local installations and software as a service (SaaS) — sometime in 2019. But we are not waiting for that. Our first major test case is here at Deutsche Welle, with its many newsrooms and its international orientation. We’ve started betatesting the platform for automated translation and subtitling of videos in different languages, and we’re taking if from there. It would be great if news.bridge became a standard HLT platform by 2023; it certainly has the potential. In order for that to happen, we need to find the right exploitation partners and strategies, of course. news.bridge is not a startup, but a media innovation project. When it’s finished, the platform will lead its own life.