August 20, 2005 —
W. Lewis Johnson, director of the Center for Advanced
Research in Technology for Education (CARTE) at USC’s Information
Sciences Institute, is one of only two 2005 winners of DARPA
"significant technical achievement" awards.
Johnson receives award from DARPA Director Anthony J. Tether
Johnson, who is also a research associate professor in the USC Viterbi
School of Engineering department of computer science, learned that he
won the prize at the 24th DARPA Systems and Technology Symposium
meeting, held August 9-11 in Anaheim, California.
Johnson’s award was for his leadership of the Tactical Language
Training System project, which creates videogames that teach the basics of
foreign language and cultural customs."The U.S. Army and Marine Corps adopted this system and are using it
today to prepare troops for duty in Iraq," said DARPA director Dr.
Anthony J. Tether. "I can best summarize the system’s success by
quoting one soldier’s words: 'I learned more in one day with this than
I learned in my whole tour in Iraq,'" adding he believes that the
system will save lives.
"I agree with Dr. Tether's assessment," said Dr. Ralph Chatham, the
DARPA program manager for Tactical Iraqi. "We may never know whose
lives it saves, but we can be confident it will save many."
News media, including The New York Times
, National Public Radio's "All
Things Considered," and Newsweek
have reported CARTE's work
on "Tactical Iraqi."
Tactical Iraqi, like the other Tactical Language games, is built on top
of a commercial engine called "Unreal Tournament." The engine provides
basic code to allow players to manipulate characters in a geographical
For the Tactical Language games, rather than engaging in traditional
videogame combat, players must converse with game characters in a
foreign language, using appropriate gestures as well.
Artificial intelligence allows the game characters the player
encounters to understand what the player says in the language (if it is
prounounced intelligibly) and to respond appropriately.
capture from Tactical Iraqi: "We may never know whose lives it
will save, but we can be confident it will save many."
Another segment of the game offers tailored, language-laboratory-like
instruction in language — instruction that players then use in the gameplaying
The system now runs on high-performance laptop computers, but CARTE
hopes eventually to make the game accessible to basic, entry-level
machines, and commercial hardware like the X-Box or Playstation systems.
Johnson and other USC partners have formed a spinoff company, Tactical
Language Training, LLC, which is providing training, support, and
content development for Tactical Iraqi and parallel systems that teach
Johnson is both a linguist and a computer scientist, with an A.B.
degree in the former from Princeton and a PhD in the latter from Yale.
He is secretary and past president of the Artificial Intelligence in
Education Society, associate editor of the journal Automated Autonomous
Agents and Multi-Agent Systems, was program co-chair First
International Joint Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multi-Agent
Systems, and program co-chair of the 2003 Intelligent User Interfaces
An accomplished baritone, Johnson has had numerous concert appearances,
including dates with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Opera.