Microsoft emulates Star Trek, turns Skype into a Universal Translator



It’s been three years since Microsoft acquired Skype for a staggering $8.5 billion, but the investment didn’t end there. Microsoft isn’t just pushing Skype as the text, voice, and video communication service to use, it has set its sights on emulating Star Trek.

Yesterday at the Code Conference in California, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Skype corporate vice president Gurdeep Pall, introduced Skype Translator. It’s the first time that this new feature has been demonstrated publicly, and involved a Skype conversation between Pall speaking English in California and Diana Heinrichs speaking German in London.

As you can see from the video below, the conversation happens in near real-time with each person’s voice translated for the receiver’s preferred language. I’ve seen comments stating the translations happening here were only passable at best, but the fact this conversation flows at all is impressive.

Microsoft isn’t talking specifics yet. We don’t know how many languages Skype Translator supports right now or even when it will launch beyond “2014 on Windows 8.” But it has brought together a decade of work from Microsoft Research and the Microsoft Translator team.

With 300 million people around the world connecting to Skype every month it makes a lot of sense to remove the language barriers between them. For business users especially, it’s going to make Skype look very desirable for those international calls and video meetings, and eventually much cheaper than actually hiring a translator.

We’re still a long way off clipping a Universal Translator to our shirts, but Microsoft is working hard to ensure that when we do, it has the Skype logo on it.


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