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in Machine Translation

In Memoriam: Jean Gachot

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Jean GachotJean Gachot, the major business developer in the career of Systran, has died.

Jean Gachot, who acquired Systran and widely developed their machine translation system, passed away on February 17 at the age of 96, missing the company’s 50th anniversary by just one year.

The remarkable history of Systran can be attributed to a large extent to Mr. Gachot, who developed a passion for machine translation in the 80s of the last century. At this time he met Peter Toma, the legendary inventor of one of the first tested and demonstrated commercial MT engines, and, in 1985, struck a deal that would completely transform his life.

Systran, which was also used under a separate agreement by the European Commission by this time for a few language pairs, became a subsidiary of Gachot, a French manufacturer of industrial valves, and received considerable funding to develop more language pairs. Jean Gachot’s visionary aim was to make MT accessible to everyone in the world as a telecommunications dialog tool supported by a satellite network.

Among other firsts in this ambitious program, in 1990, Jean convinced France Telecom to offer Systran MT on the Minitel network in France, a national Internet-type network 'avant la lettre', and an early predecessor of the now-common MT buttons we find everywhere on the Internet these days. In fact for a short period of time anyone in any country could access this service via telecom link from a PC (Minitel acted as a modem), paying $1.20 for a page of translation!

Jean passed his passion for Systran on to his son Denis Gachot in the US office and son-in-law Dimitris Sabatakakis, who managed the company in Europe for several decades, surviving the many technological and financial storms that struck the MT market over the years.

We would like to remember Jean Gachot as one of the founding fathers of commercial machine translation “for the people”, taking the technology out of the lab and trying to respond to the evident need for technology solutions in a multilingual world. This passion for development is still intact at the company (which has since partially been ceded by the Gachot family): Systran in France has just reinvented themselves again with their Pure Neural Machine Translation offering and OpenNMT support site for developers.

Jaap van der Meer founded TAUS in 2004. He is a language industry pioneer and visionary, who started his first translation company, INK, in The Netherlands in 1980.  Jaap is a regular speaker at conferences and author of many articles about technologies, translation and globalization trends.

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