On Monday, Microsoft launched the preview version of a new Skype feature that translates one spoken language into another in near real-time. Available only on the Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 Technical Preview clients, Skype Translate launches with the ability to translate spoken English and Spanish along with support for over 40 instant messaging languages. Skype users interested in giving Translate a try can head here to register for the preview.
"Skype Translator is a great example of the benefit of Microsoft's investment in research," said Skype Corporate Vice President Gurdeep Pall. "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. Skype Translator is the most recent and visible example."
Pall said that Skype Translate depends on machine learning. Thus, Skype Translate will only get better as more and more people begin to use the service. In addition to Spanish and English, users will eventually be able to translate Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), French, Italian, Korean, Russian, German, Japanese, Portuguese and more.
According to the blog, two schools have made use of Skype Translate: Peterson School in Mexico City and Stafford Elementary School in Tacoma, USA. Both classes were tasked to figure out where the other class is located using the preview service. Both classes also spoke in their native language, making it hard to determine the origins of each class.
Microsoft acquired Skype from an investor group led by Silver Lake back in May 2011. The company paid a whopping $8.5 billion in cash for the popular VoIP/IM service and indicated that Skype would support Microsoft services such as Xbox Live, Kinect, Windows Phone, Lync and a number of other services and devices. The company also promised to continue dumping funds into Skype running on platforms not owned by Microsoft.
Skype's Mo Ladha and Chris Wendt talked more about the technology behind Skype Translate on the Garage Blog. The process is broken down in a graphic embedded within a PDF, showing that the translation engine will remove the "ums," "ahs," stutters and repetitions before the original speech is translated. The image also reveals that the engine has learned how languages align with each other by reviewing "millions of pieces" of content that was previously translated.
"Increased usage and user feedback, plus constant refinement by human transcribers, help Skype Translator learn and get better," read the PDF.
Skype Translator was originally introduced back in the end of May by Pall and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Pall said that Skype Translate "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." The demo showed Pall talking with a German friend; he spoke in English and the friend spoke in her native tongue.