No, this is not a Star Trek prophecy.
Microsoft Skype Translator is a very clever, existing piece of software that recognizes speech in one language and is able to almost instantly translate it into another. It has mastered basic conversation and gains intelligence on the fly, even understanding sound patterns to decipher how pitch at the end of a sentence could indicate that a question was asked.
Sometimes we can’t even get it right in person.
It’s currently available as a preview, with 40,000 registered users testing and advancing its capability as it stores conversations to absorb proper names, idioms, and terms like on fleek.
Here’s how the software performed in a test conversation last December:
Considering the depth of the program’s learning algorithm, you can imagine just how impressive its delivery is almost half a year later.
Skype Translator is currently capable of translating over 40 languages – from Hebrew to Klingon (!) – and is set for a full release for Skype’s 300 million users soon.
Just how long that is depends on Microsoft’s ability to perfect the service and iron out the kinks, according to the company’s Corporate VP, Gurdeep Pall. This includes things like recognizing when people are speaking with accents, dealing with slang, managing interruptions in conversation, and increased fluency with more difficult languages like German, where verbs are placed at the end of a sentence.
Skype Translator will be available for free, only requires one person in the conversation to have it installed, and will eventually operate instantly (it currently takes around one second for text and audio to be translated).
We’re all ears, Microsoft – make it happen.