Before the end of 2014, Microsoft plans to release a beta Skype app that will enable real-time translation of people verbally speaking in different languages.
Skype Translator, as Microsoft is calling it, appears to be an extension of the real-time translation Microsoft has been developing over ten years. Microsoft has previously shown the technology in action with real-time translation of speech delivered by Microsoft's Rick Rashid in a speech in China; most recently, Microsoft released Bing Translator, which performs the same function as Skype Translator, just on Windows 8.
"We felt speech translation was a very natural evolution of the text-translation work we've been doing," said Chris Wendt, a program manager for the machine language team at Microsoft, in a blog post.
As Microsoft notes, however, the new Skype Translator simply makes more sense than a dedicated app, given the different scenarios in which Skype is used: in business, to talk to friends and relatives internationally, and in education.
Satya Nadella, Microsoft's new chief executive, introduced the new Skype Translator app at the Code Conference in southern California, where Gurdeep Pall, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Skype and Lync, demonstrated the technology with a German-speaking colleague.
The demonstration not only provided an oral translation, but a text-based one as well. The original text, as understood by Skype, appeared at the bottom. Although the text appeared scripted, the demonstration was still impressive. The German speaker, identified as Diana Heinrichs, however, clearly enunicated each word precisely, while Pall was less formal.
While it's unclear how the beta app of Skype Translator will relate to Skype itself (will the two remain separate apps?) it's certainly clear that Microsoft is moving ahead in terms of real-time translation. Microsoft positioned the technology as the real-life instantiation of the Star Trek universal translator--while that may still be in the realm of science fiction, reality appears to be not too far off.