Skype's Translator App Turns Star Trek Communicator Into A Reality

Microsoft has demoed a Skype Translator app that can translate different languages in near real-time over video calls.

The demo was shown at Microsoft's Code Conference where Gurdeep Pall, Microsoft's Corporate Vice President of Skype had an almost real-time conversation translating English to German and vice versa.

Speaking into the microphone, the app then translates it into both text that appears on the screen whilst also being read out to you.

Fancy trying it out? You actually can. The Skype Translator app will be available to download as a Windows 8 beta app before the end of the year.

Immediately bringing to mind the Star Trek Universal Translator, Skype's Translator app uses some fairly mind-melting software including the use of neural networks, which mimic an organic brain allowing it to learn and evolve.

Unsurprisingly, accomplishing real-time translation has been something of a major hurdle for Microsoft, not least when you consider the kind of computing power that has to be invested.

Trying to overcome that massive headache is Microsoft’s Machine Translation team headed by Arul Menezes.

According to Menezes one of the first barriers they had to break was the fact that humans talk and type in two very different ways.

“That’s one of the things over the last year that my team’s been doing, resolving the mismatch between the way people talk and the way they write,” Menezes says. “If your translation system is focused on written text, it works very poorly with spoken language.”

Once they’d overcome that barrier it was just the small matter of combining that with the level of cloud-based ‘oomph’ that can make Skype learn and get better over time.

Microsoft is already working heavily on voice recognition with the latest Xbox One Kinect peripheral and its new Siri-rival Cortana for Windows Phone 8.1.