Skype’s Universal Translator

May 31, 2014 11:10 AM

SkypeMicrosoft’s Skype is going to revolutionise the world of telecommunications with their announcement of a universal translator at Re/Code ‘s inaugural Code Conference at Rancho Palos Verdes, California, on Tuesday.

The real-time multilingual translation beta, Skype Translate is said to mediate between the people on both sides of the camera. If you speak different languages, Skype Translate makes comprehension easier, by providing text and audio translation after each person finishes speaking. The developers now run the service for English and German but, support for other languages will be offered when the beta is released later this year.

While Skype Translate is no U.N. interpreter, the fact that Microsoft is working on this with a mainstream product like Skype, is generating buzz and excitement. The challenge with Skype Translate, handling the tons of research that needs to go into the project itself. Machine-learning problems that are difficult to resolve include auto speech-to-text transcription, textual translator – services included by Google Translate and Bing Translator and digital speech translator. Text translation, seems to be the obvious choice, if the system is unable to catch pronunciation in any case. The display will show a text-based translation if it cannot handle fast speech, hopefully at the same speed it translates voice based information.

While the basic questions have been asked, answers on the way, so that means Skype Translate is on its way. The biggest issue though, is accuracy. A service’s usage and practicality depends mainly on accuracy, since this is multilingual support we’re talking about. Recently, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced TransTac, a speech-to-speech translator that achieved 80 percent accuracy. The translator though interesting, with the 20 percent error, is not developed enough for public use. Long before Skype announced their project, apps like Vocre, have offered similar services.

Gurdeep Pall, Corporate Vice-President of Skype and Lync, on his blog post wrote, “Skype Translator results from decades of work by the industry, years of work by our researchers, and now is being developed jointly by the Skype and Microsoft Translator teams.” He also explained why Microsoft backed Skype in this attempt saying, “Skype Translator is a great example of why Microsoft invests in basic research. 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.”

Microsoft bought Skype in 2011 for $8.5 billion in 2011, and Gurdeep Pall said that Skype Translator will be available as a beta app for Windows 8 before the end of 2014. Watch this video where Pall demonstrated the amazing technology with a woman who only spoke German.