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Updated: 6:09 PM EDT
Tuesday, May 14, 2002
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February 25, 2002 

UTD forms human language technology institute

The University of Texas at Dallas said Monday it has established the Human Language Technology Research Institute, aimed at advancing the understanding and uses of natural language processing.

The science has grabbed the attention of federal government intelligence agencies in the wake heightened security concerns after Sept. 11, the university said.

The technology uses sophisticated software to potentially help security personnel screen and analyze millions of voice and text communications to uncover terrorist or other criminal activities. It can also be used in customer support applications for businesses.

The research, new at UTD, will be headed by Sandacq Harabagiu, director of the institute and an associate professor of computer science at the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. Harabagiu also holds the Jonsson School Research Initiation Chair Professorship.

An expert in natural language processing, knowledge processing and artificial intelligence, Harabagiu joins UTD from The University of Texas at Austin, where she was a member of the computer science faculty.

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The institute was established with about $3 million in initial funding, which comes from the university and a variety of other organizations, including the National Science Foundation.

As the faculty and staff of the institute grow, so, too, will opportunities for additional, sizeable grants, according to Harabagiu.

"Since Sept. 11, there has been a heightened interest in this work among federal agencies and, consequently, millions of dollars are being made available for research of the kind we will be doing at UTD," Harabagiu said.

Harabagiu and her colleagues will develop software that can quickly and reliably process, identify, analyze and extract desired information from huge collections of documents, composed of both text and speech.

While Harabagiu is an expert on textual question and answering, the new institute also will research the same process involving the spoken word. She is currently interviewing potential researchers with that particular expertise.

When fully staffed, the institute will be composed of more than 10 faculty members and at least 40 doctoral students, Harabagiu estimated.

To help mark the opening of the institute, UTD will hold a two-day "inauguration symposium" March 7-8 on campus, featuring presentations by top experts in the field of human language technology. Web sites: www.hlt.utdallas.edu/index.html, http://www.utdallas.edu.

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