Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella took to the stage at the Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California earlier this week to talk a bit about a "more personal, more human era of computing". The highlight of the show was, however, the demonstration of a "breakthrough in real-time translated conversations," by Gurdeep Pall, Corporate Vice President of Skype and Lync at Microsoft.
The official Microsoft blog notes that Skype has been bringing people together for more than a decade now. "Today, we have more than 300 million connected users each month, and more than 2 billion minutes of conversation a day as Skype breaks down communications barriers by delivering voice and video across a number of devices, from PCs and tablets, to smartphones and TVs," we are informed. However there's always been the language barrier to hinder our communication and productivity. Now, thanks to the Skype Translator, that barrier is about to be overcome.
Further reading about the enabling of cross-lingual conversations in real-time and the technology behind it can be found on the Microsoft Research site here. The research team has had to cross many obstacles including the fact that the way people write and they way they talk is different. Recently, we are told, the proliferation of big data has "given neural networks new life," as it enabled new ways of addressing the machine translation problem.
Skype Translator beta will launch on Windows 8 by the end of 2014.
Skype Translator is based upon the work that has gone into Microsoft Translator technology. Microsoft says that it has been "invested in speech recognition, automatic translation and machine learning technologies for more than a decade" and that while it is still early days, "the Star Trek vision for a Universal Translator isn’t a galaxy away." Actually Skype Translator will arrive for Windows 8 as a beta application before 2014 is out.
The on stage demo, you can see embedded above, shows Microsoft's Gurdeep Pall speaking in English to 'Diana', a German speaker. The system appears to do a great job of the translation and Pall really doesn't seem to have to struggle to speak especially clearly, or slowly, for the translator software to re-voice his chat in German.