Microsoft Research and Skype have collaborated on a project that will be recognized as a successful achievement for technology in 2014. In an effort to make life easier for a lot of people across the world, Skype Translator is a major advancement in the field of telecommunication. The feature was discussed at the inaugural Re/code’s Code Conference at Ranchos Palos Verdes, California, and it is set to debut before the end of 2014 for Windows 8 users. The same firm that spawned Kinect, Microsoft Research, but not Skype, is said to responsible for the Skype Translator.
Calling on years of research and technology, Skype Translator, Microsoft and Skype, introduced the demo version of the service to the general audience. To demonstrate, Skype/Lync’s Vice President Gurdeep Pall had a conversation with a German Skype employee based in Europe. The employee, identified as Diana Heinrichs, conversed in German, as Pall responded in English. The automated voice-based translator translated in English, while a text-based translator handled pronunciation errors.
German speakers at the conference, were not impressed with the results according to sources. The translation was inaccurate, according to the members, but the essence was not lost on the crowd. Although the technology is still in its infancy, it is promising to see it can break down barriers and make life easier. While Microsoft is heralding this as one of a kind, Skype is not the first application to make a translator. Transtac, a speech-based translator, introduced by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), U.S., showed promise but was far from being introduced to the general public. The translator from Skype, however, is promised to get better with time and will make life easier for a lot of people who face language barriers.
Skype, with over 300 million users, was purchased by Microsoft in 2011. The VoIP based application clocks a billion conversations every minute, making the app the first choice in telecommunications. Satya Nadella, CEO Microsoft, is said to be pushing the technology to convert it into products by the end of the year. Skype Translator is said to have been developed after years of research and development with Microsoft’s Translator and Skype. Nadella called Skype Translator an example of Microsoft’s investment in basic research. Components of speech-recognition, machine learning and automatic translation that have been developed over the last decade are included in the modern era. Nadella said that the Skype Translator’s machine translation feature has been the focus of research for over ten years. The cooperative efforts of the Microsoft Research teams and Skype have led to regular releases for the firm’s product-support information base and text based translation offered through Bing.
An interesting feature, Nadella says, is Skype Translator’s transfer learning. While speech recognition and synthesis, along with machine translation, have been worked on for 15 years, transfer learning is the feature, Nadella says, that sets Skype apart. The ability of the translator to learn a language, say German initially and then Mandarin, but get better at German while learning a new language simultaneously, Nadella says, is the element of surprise. That said, should the translator learn Spanish, it would effectively be better at Mandarin and German. This feature makes Skype, the first firm with an obvious advantage in the business community, a huge help to business meetings across the globe easier. The translator also uses Skype voice, IM technology, and a network-based speech recognition of a neural nature.
It is expected that Google and Apple will introduce this feature in the future on their Hangouts and FaceTime apps, but Microsoft will always have the advantage as it was the first to introduce the feature. Expected to support 40 languages upon its release, Skype’s Translator will be available on all of Microsoft’s product range. The feature will be released as a stand-alone app, but will be integrated later on with Skype and installed on Windows PCs, tablets, smart phones and Xbox consoles. Skype’s Translator will make life easier for a lot of people, but the real-time translation it offers will be treasured by the international business community.
Opinion by Rathan Paul Harshavardan