Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that in the future Microsoft’s Skype will be able to translate voice and video calls in near-real-time. Nadella’s news came yesterday at the Code Conference, where the head of Skype, Gurdeep Pall, demonstrated the interpretation capabilities of the current version of Skype Translator.
In the demo, Pall engages in a Skype video call with one of his German colleagues, Diane Heinrichs. Heinrichs speaks in German, which is immediately translated to English and read out by the programme, while Pall responds in English, which is then translated into German. The result is a virtually comprehensive multilingual conversation (you can watch the video here).
Nadella claims that this technology could revolutionize the way we communicate, by breaking down language barriers. “It’s the most human of things,” Nadella says. Although several other companies, including Google, are working on voice translation technology, Skype has the widest reach. According to Microsoft, Skype has over 300-million users each month, who collectively communicate for 2-billion minutes over Skype each day. So yeah, Skype Translate will definitely have a very big impact.
Perhaps the most interesting component of Skype Translate is its ability to learn as it acquires new languages. Termed ‘transfer learning’, the system gets better at the languages it already knows each time it learns a new language. According to Nadella, although they’re not quite sure how this fascinating feature works, it’s “magical.” Who knows, perhaps Microsoft has stumbled upon an artificial intelligence algorithm. Watch out world, Skype Translate might just take you over one day.
Currently Skype Translate is in pre-beta testing. In an official Microsoft blog post, released yesterday, the company revealed that they will be releasing a beta-test version exclusively for Windows 8 by the end of the year. According to Nadella, the commercial version of Skype Translate will be out sometime in the next two and a half years.