The technology depicted in science fiction is crossing over, bit by bit, into our world. First Star Trek’s communicators became a reality with the iPhone, and just last week we reported on the Back To The Future hover board that was being made by Arx Pax. Now Skype are previewing their real-time translator, which you could argue is simply their interpretation of the Babel Fish from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. The new software translates voice calls, enabling people to communicate across language barriers without delay; a truly ground-breaking proposition, provided it actually works.
“Skype Translator is a great example of the benefit of Microsoft’s investment in research,” states the official blog post. “We’ve invested in speech recognition, automatic translation and machine learning technologies for more than a decade, and now they’re emerging as important components in this more personal computing era… This is just the beginning of a journey that will transform the way we communicate with people around the world. Our long term goal for speech translation is to translate as many languages as possible on as many platforms as possible and deliver the best Skype Translator experience on each individual platform for our more than 300 million connected users.”
The ‘machine learning’ basis of Skype Translator means that the more people use it, the better it gets. Skype are trialling voice calls with English and Spanish (along with up to 40 other languages in text-based chat) and expect the quality of translations to improve as more people try out the Skype Translator preview. The tool is being touted as of particular benefit to schools.
“The early tests look promising,” writes Darrell Etherington at TechCrunch, “but everything we’ve seen so far has been from Skype direct and likely involved a lot of control… It’ll be very interesting to see how it performs in real world situations with more complex languages. This could be one of the most powerful technologies ever created, if it can live up to the hype, but the real test of its worth begins now.”