The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Skype Will Translate Multilingual Conversations by Next Year

Skype Translator is trying to connect people across the globe, regardless of language barriers

2 min read
Skype Will Translate Multilingual Conversations by Next Year
Photo: Re/code

Picture this, an English-speaking man carries on a full conversation with a German-speaking women. Did I mention that the man doesn’t understand a word of German and the woman doesn’t understand a word of English? Yet, they still understand each other.

On stage at the Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., Gurdeep Pall, corporate vice president of Skype and Lync at Microsoft, demonstrated Skype Translator, a new app that translates multilingual voice calls in real time. This means that users can speak in their native tongue to someone who speaks a different language while Microsoft translates. By the end of this year, Skype Translator will be available as a Windows 8 beta app.

“Imagine in the very near future technology allowing humans to bridge geographic and language boundaries to connect mind to mind and heart to heart in ways never before possible,” Pall writes in his blog post.

In the lively demo, Pall uses Skype to initiate a video and voice call with his German-speaking demonstrator, Diana. As they converse in their own respective languages, subtitles in both German and English appear at the bottom of the screen accompanied by an almost real-time audio translation. And, get this; the English translation of Diana speaking German even comes with a female voice.

According to Satya Nadella, the new CEO of Microsoft, the company's machine translation group has been working on translation, speech recognition, and speech synthesis for the past 15 years.

Skype Translator fuses “Skype voice and IM technologies with Microsoft Translator, and neural networking-based speech recognition,” Pall writes in his blog post. Although this sounds like a mouthful, this technology stems from transfer learning. It's basically the computer version of "practice, practice, practice." 

“It’s brain-like in the sense of its capability to learn,” Nadella said at the Code Conference this week. But, regarding the nitty-gritty of how exactly the technology works “quite frankly, none of us know quite exactly why,” he says, and calls it “magical.”

The Conversation (0)

Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
A plate of spaghetti made from code
Shira Inbar

You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

Keep Reading ↓Show less