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Microsoft Demos Real-time Language Translator for Skype

May 28 2014, 5:25am CDT | by , in News | Technology News

Microsoft Demos Real-time Language Translator for Skype
Photo Credit: Asa Mathat – Re/code

Microsoft demonstrates Tuesday a real time language translation tool for Skype at the Code Conference. Microsoft will start rolling out this Skype translator before the end of 2014.

Skype and Microsoft’s Machine Translation teams really worked hard to break down the language barriers. They worked hard to bring the dream of Eric Rudder and Peter Lee closer to reality.

Rudder was Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer then, and Lee was head of Microsoft Research. They were among those people "who had seen demonstrations of a research project designed to provide fluent, cross-lingual conversations between speakers of different languages. The demos were tantalizing, offering the potential to smash through the language barriers that have hindered human communication for thousands of years" according to Microsoft Research.

Rudder and Lee delivered the idea to Microsoft’s Machine Translation team about a year ago. Skype and Microsoft Translator teams jointly worked on this task. Arul Menezes headed the Redmond-based Machine Translation team. And they become successful in their efforts.

“The interesting thing about this project,” Menezes says, “is we’ve got these two fairly complex technologies coming together for the first time to provide this end-to-end user experience.”

On Tuesday May 27th, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella sat down to talk with Re/code's Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg at the inaugural Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

Satya discussed his views which were related to a new era of personal computing during his onstage conversation that lasted for more than hour. Nadella asked Gurdeep Pall, Microsoft corporate vice president of Skype and Lync, to join him onstage for the first public demonstration of Skype's exciting new capability to enable cross-lingual conversations in real time.

Pall demonstrated the new Skype Translator app. He used this app for conversation in English with a German-speaking Microsoft employee, Diana Heinrichs. The demo showed near real-time audio translation from English to German and vice versa.

Skype Translator app combines the Skype voice and IM technologies with Microsoft Translator, and neural network-based speech recognition. This app is a result of years of work by Microsoft researchers, and now is being developed jointly by the Skype and Microsoft Translator teams.

“We felt speech translation was a very natural evolution of the text-translation work we’ve been doing,” says Chris Wendt, program manager of the Machine Translation team, who had long been pushing for such an incubation effort.

Skype has been working to bring people together for more than a decade. Now Skype has more than 300 million connected users each month, and more than two billion minutes of conversation a day, says the company. Skype breaks down communications barriers but language barriers will still be there until something better comes along.

“It’s an exciting project,” Wendt says, “and it became clear that adding this capability to Skype and enabling people to have translated conversations was the killer scenario to get this technology into customers’ hands.”

Microsoft always invests in basic research. The tech giant has been investing in speech recognition, automatic translation and machine learning technologies for more than ten years. All these technologies are emerging as important components of the personal computing era.

During the past years, Microsoft Research teams made several attempts to demonstrate aspects of translating human speech. But this task is not easy. However, their efforts become successful and they made a real-time translator tool for Skype users that smashed language barriers.

However, this Skype translator app is still in its early days, "but the Star Trek vision for a Universal Translator isn’t a galaxy away," says Pall.

This Skype Translator app can be used in areas of education, diplomacy, multilingual families and in business to make meaningful connections in ways you never could have even thought about before.

“The technology is only as good as the data,” Menezes says. “One big focus has been to scale up the amount and kinds of data that go into the machine-learning training of these systems.”

 

Skype Translator app will be first available as a Windows 8 limited beta app before the end of 2014. 

"In our industry, we often talk about pursuing big, bold dreams, and of how we’re limited only by the power of our imaginations. Skype Translator is one of those endeavors, and I look forward to keeping you apprised of our journey to break down another barrier to human productivity and connection," says Gurdeep Pall.

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