The Language Technology Industry Summit 2017 will illustrate how language technology addresses challenges in defence and security. We have interviewed Mark Pfeiffer, Chief Visionary Officer at SAIL LABS:

LT-Innovate: SAIL LABS supplies a comprehensive end-to-end platform providing open source intelligence (OSINT) to analysts and decision makers. Could you briefly describe the origins of your company and the main phases of its development up to now?

Mark Pfeiffer: SAIL LABS has started out as a research facility focussed only on speech recognition with a very small number of customers for productised research. Soon through customer demand and structural changes of the original customers SAIL LABS evolved into a solution provider that over the years built the most advanced and comprehensive OSINT solution in the world. The main milestones were technically:
1999: founding of the company;
2003: with the win of a deal with US state department and an African client the product was further developed according to the requirements of the clients;
2006: further input by an increasingly growing customer base primarily in the Middle East; the products developed further into the analytics of open source information;
2009: the requirement of a key client to have an entire workflow for his organisation fully integrated has led to the development of the workflow module;
2010: rapidly developing media situations due to highly dynamic situations in particular the “Arab spring” required a quicker overview of situations which led to the launch of the Crisis Room, which is now a key element for first responders in disasters as well;
2012: with the advent of social media developing into a valued source by many parts of the population and business, and a means of spreading all sorts of information, social media were introduced as another sourcing method. Big data has become more and more relevant and we realised that we are dealing in this field;
2014: social media analysis was seen as key to many situations so a dedicated module was introduced and has been in use in many aspects by tracking disasters, terrorist events and communication;
2017: new releases revamped and expanded all modules able to handle much more data across many more languages more quickly than ever making these installations ever more a cornerstone of many organisations.

LT-Innovate: Defence & security institutions are major consumers of open source intelligence. What are the main drivers of growth for LT-driven solutions in this sector today?

Mark Pfeiffer: SAIL LABS currently has a major footprint in this area and is increasingly gaining market share. Our solution is built on the principle to always fulfil the needs of our clients in multilingual, multimedia aspects, which has put SAIL LABS into a leading position worldwide against products from very large US and Israeli defence companies. We are very proud to increasingly win on technical merits against these entities in many countries across the globe. Having a stronger European installation base is however now a priority for us, as we wish to contribute to the safety and security of the continent we live and work in, especially when we see the stellar successes our clients are having in many areas across the globe.

What are the main new technology/linguistic challenges in the defence & security context (recent and looking forward)?

Mark Pfeiffer: Radicalization and fake news are two major challenges. These happen across many media formats and languages that need to be addressed. In fact, criminal organisations and terrorists mostly communicate in the open. Yet most of their communication is encrypted through language and cultural references understood only by those in the know. Our systems are doing great service already in this area and are becoming increasingly important. The future SAIL LABS will focus more on the AI component in the company name (AI standing for Artificial Intelligence). There are many things happening here that we may be able to reveal at the LTI Summit already.

LT-Innovate: What is likely to be the most impactful change in this segment in the next 5 years?

Mark Pfeiffer: The increased ability of systems to assist clients with decision support in a world where data is growing exponentially with its diversifying formats and languages.

LT-Innovate: Do you expect the arrival of new competitors, or the advent of radical new technologies? If so, who/what might they be?

Mark Pfeiffer: With the massive amounts of subsidies given to US and Israeli companies they will be catching up. It is our mission to maintain our advantage and increase the gap as best as possible. Many of the new arrivals however focus on new media only and ignore the challenges of classical media that currently allow us to maintain our lead. This poses also a challenge to Europe which needs to build up its defence capability and ascertain its independence.

LT-Innovate: What kind of support would you like to see from the European Union in this field?

Mark Pfeiffer: The European Union is supporting us with research grants, which we do appreciate. The European clients however in many cases look at large companies that are then selected to provide solutions. This is usually done as they trust large corporations more and economic viability has particular metrics. We are a fairly small entity with less than €10m revenue currently, which even excludes us from certain projects despite being fully technically competent to cover the entire project. We have done this for many governments in many countries yet still face challenges in Europe. Promoting mid-sized hidden champions and putting technical ability before company size in Requests for Proposals would be a great start.