For a long time Skype has been promoting and demoing the (almost) real-time translation feature of its product, now the Skype Translator seems ready for the market.
This feature could be the first globally successful attempt at real-time language translation and the impact could be massive. As we break down language barriers the world opens up even more than today and the possibilities are endless. If Skype and other complementary kinds of services pull off their mission we would see an enhancement in the communication not only between cross-border businesses but also domestically in diversified and multilingual countries during public and governmental interaction. TechCrunch names it as “one of the most powerful technologies ever created, if it can live up to the hype”.
CIO Today reports that the preview program will start with two spoken languages (Spanish and English) and also 40 instant messaging languages. It will currently be available for users with Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 Technical preview. Within reasonable time, Microsoft plans to make the service available across a wide array of devices and operating systems. According to TechCrunch, the program has already been tested out with collaboration from schools in Mexico and The United States. The Verge reports that Skype is already popular in the classrooms, with teachers participating in video conferences around the world to connect their schools to classrooms across the globe.
Microsoft has invested a lot of resources into machine learning technologies and the company hopes that this launch will result in the first great payoff. Not to seldom incredibly hyped solutions do not live up to expectations and sometimes they do not even see the light of day, but Microsoft seems confident enough in this case. Investment in speech recognition and automatic translation is something the company has been pursuing for at least a decade.
Since machine learning is involved, Skype expects the quality of the translations to get more accurate the more people who use the service. The more times the program catches a word in a conversation, the better the translations will become in the end. The speech is translated into text and translated audio, according to The Verge. The software even removes the “ahs” and “umms” from a conversation.
You might wonder about other languages than Spanish or English and rightfully so. The signup page lists 10 other languages besides English and Spanish as possible choices for users: Arabic, Chinese (Cantonese), Chinese (Mandarin), French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and Russian. The remaining 10 languages presumably are near-future candidates to be added to Skype Translator.
These kinds of impactful technologies are very refreshing and we will closely monitor further developments, possible downsides and validity to the hype. However, progress is ongoing and if Skype is not up for the task someone else will be soon (and probably be acquired). For now, all we can do is to request an invite from Microsoft’s Skype site and cross our fingers.