'Near real-time' translation tool revealed for Skype

Microsoft, Skype unveil translation tool at Re/Code conference

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'Near real-time' translation tool revealed for Skype Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, describes the tool as 'magical' and 'brain-like'. (Getty Images)
By  Helen Gaskell Published  May 28, 2014

Microsoft demonstrated ‘near real-time' language translation in voice calls for Skype at Re/Code, a programmers conference that debuted on Tuesday in California.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Skype chief Gurdeep Singh Pall demoed the real-time language translation tool that has been built into Skype and works like having a real interpreter as part of the conversation.

Introducing the technology, Nadella said: "The fascinating feature of this is something called transfer learning; if you teach it English, it learns English, if you teach it Mandarin, it learns Mandarin but it becomes better at English.

"Then you teach it Spanish and it gets good at Spanish but it gets great at both Mandarin and English and quite frankly none of us know exactly why.

"It is brain-like in the sense of its capability to learn. It is magical and it is going to make sure you can communicate with anybody without language barriers."

Microsoft hopes to use the huge number of conversations that take place on Skype to improve its translation tools with real language and speech patterns, which could lead to much better back-and-forth translations.

During the demonstration, Pall had a conversation with another Microsoft employee, Diana Heinrichs, who spoke German, with Skype providing real-time translation from German to English and vice versa. 

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