One of the more impressive Microsoft projects lately, in addition to the few other things the technology behemoth is working on, is Skype Translate. Built into Skype for Windows, the tool can take what you say, translate it mid-stream, and present it in another language to your intended recipient. It’s just like a human translator, only now with the capability to translate six languages for voice and video and 50 languages for text.
The Windows blog provided a quick update on Skype Translate this morning, and the service is just as remarkable as it seems. As far as you can tell, you and the person you’re communicating with are speaking your native language, and vice versa. We took a look at the Skype Translator preview a few months back, and, while it’s not yet perfect, it’s impressive technology that can leave a person speechless.
Skype Translate leverages Microsoft’s significant investments in machine intelligence to work its magic. Microsoft provided more details on how Skype Translator works at the Skype Blog back in December, and here are the pertinent bits.
Machine Learning is the capability of software learning from training data examples, and Skype Translator is built on a robust Machine Learning platform. By learning from the training data during this preview stage, along with all of its nuances, the software can learn to better recognize and translate the diversity of topics, accents and language variation of actual Skype Translator users.
Skype Translator’s machine learning protocols train and optimize speech recognition (SR) and automatic machine translation (MT) tasks, acting as the glue that holds these elements together. This “glue” transforms the recognized text to facilitate translation. This process includes the removal of disfluencies (i.e. ‘ahs’ and ‘umms’ as well as re-phrasings), division of the text into sentences, as well as addition of punctuation and capitalization.
Interestingly, Microsoft discusses how data collected from a variety of sources, including Skype Translator users, goes into making the translation engines more accurate. This is just one example of why Microsoft collects data, providing evidence that they really do have good, non-privacy-infringing reasons to do so.
In any event, if you want to talk to someone who speaks English, French, German, Italian Mandarin, or Spanish, then Skype Translate will let you do so in real time voice and video. For the other 44 or so supported languages, you’re limited to texting. For those members of the Federation who need to text natively with Klingons, Microsoft has you covered as well.
Skype Translator is easy to setup within the Skype for Windows client, and Microsoft was kind enough to provide a quick how-to video.
So, there you have it. You can now touch base with that long-lost relative of yours who only speaks Italian. Just convince them to get a Windows machine if they don’t already have one (and they probably do), download Skype, and get talking.