Microsoft prepares its ‘universal translator’ for Skype

By Jacopo prisco

(CNN) – Skype users will soon be able to make voice and video calls backed by near-real-time translation technology.

While you still can’t guarantee that fine details won’t be lost in translation, Microsoft’s new idea for its video chat platform certainly feels like something out of science fiction.

Our hopes for such a wonder will no longer be pinned on imaginary aquatic creatures; the Babel fish from Intergalactic Traveler’s Guide, or improbable “telepathic fields,” like the one emitted by the TARDIS from Doctor Who to transmit any alien language to its pilot and convert it into plain English.

In fact, it all sounds quite similar to what the Klingons in Star Trek use to make their generally belligerent intentions stand out pretty clear: a “universal translator” that is not seen but is always present.

“The idea that people don’t understand each other, that’s going to be a thing of the past,” Gurdeep Pall, Skype’s corporate vice president, told CNN’s Richard Quest.

“In the same way that before it was difficult to imagine a world where you could travel to different places and quickly, whether in a car or by plane, we will never think about, wow, those were the dark times when people could not understand each other. Yes. That is where we are headed. “

Called Skype Translator, the extension is based on research done for Microsoft Translator, and uses a technology called Deep Neural Networks, which gives significantly better speech recognition results than previous methods.

It will be available as a Windows 8 beta app before the year is out, but Microsoft is already showing its English-to-German functionality. It is not yet clear if the service will be free to Skype’s 300 million users, or if it will be extended to other platforms.

Microsoft is not alone in its mission to be a universal translator. Google already offers voice translation in its Google Translation service and is also working on integrating real-time translation to Android. And Sigmo, a Bluetooth device that promises real-time speech translation in 25 languages, had a successful crowd funding campaign last year.