Microsoft today announced the roll out of Skype Translator Preview, a program that aims to eliminate the language barrier by offering near simultaneous automated translation of video calls in different languages. Currently, the program only translates calls between English and Spanish, with more languages planned in the future. The instant messenger feature currently offers translation between 40 different languages.
Real time automated translation has long been considered the next step in language translation, but has always been considered difficult to achieve. Microsoft says they have been working on this technology for over a decade, and that it is designed to learn from its users, and keep refining and improving translations as the system continues to be used. It is designed to filter out filler words like “um” and know the difference between words like “there” “they’re” and “their.” When one user speaks in their native language, a computer voice will speak the translation to the other user, and a transcript of their conversation will be displayed in the sidebar. You can watch a demonstration of how it will work below.
Skype Translator Preview is currently available by invitation only, and will begin rolling out at the end of the year. You can sign up on the waiting list at the Skype Website. You also must have a PC running Windows 8.1 in order to use the program.
Author’s Note: This has the potential to be a game changer in reducing the global language barrier. While free automated translation for written text has been around for a while, it has mostly been substandard and failed to offer realistic translations for the complex ways people talk around the globe. If Microsoft can both solve that issue and bring it to translation of voice calls, it has the potential to be revolutionary in the way people conduct business internationally. Even if it falls short of its goal of providing realistic translation (given how hard it is to do, I imagine they will fall somewhat short). This is still a big step forward in reducing the global language barrier.