Is This The Greatest Invention Since The Telephone?

    •    Washington-based Microsoft has released a preview of Skype Translator
    •    It lets people of different languages talk to each other on video calls
    •    The software translates one language into text and speech of another
    •    For now only Spanish and English are available – and you need to have a Windows 8.1 device
    •    But eventually more than 40 languages will be supported – including even Klingon from Star Trek

A world where there are no more language barriers might not be too far away – online, at least.

Skype has now released the beta version of its live translation tool, allowing people to speak to others in another language – even if they don’t know what they’re saying.

The tool translates speech instantly, providing both text and spoken translations.

You can sign up for the beta version of Skype Translator now on their website.

For now the public version is only able to translate between English and Spanish – and you need a Windows 8.1 device to use it.

But it will eventually have more than 40 languages available letting people of many countries speak to one another with ease.

There's no news yet, though, on when the full version will be available.

‘Skype is now removing another barrier to make it possible for people to communicate irrespective of what language they speak,’ Microsoft’s Gurdeep Pall wrote in a blog post.

‘Skype Translator relies on machine learning, which means that the more the technology is used, the smarter it gets.’

‘We are starting with English and Spanish, and as more people use the Skype Translator preview with these languages, the quality will continually improve.’

The service works by translating your speech as you talk.

It provides a text version of your speech for the person on the other end of the line, and also reads out what it thinks the translation is.

To turn it on, you simply need to select the translation setting before making a call to someone.
Initial reports from the beta version say it is good, although not perfect.

‘For Skype Translator to work properly, there is a little mental conditioning involved,’ reported Gizmodo.

‘For one, you must speak slowly. Skype Translator's speech recognition is good, and plenty fast, but that accuracy decreases as you speed up in words per minute.

‘"Hey, how is it going?" can change to "Hey is going?" pretty quickly.’

It’s also recommended that the speaker doesn’t ‘um’ and ‘ah’ too much, as this can confuse the translation tool.

To start using it, you simply need to choose a contact, turn on the ‘Translation’ switch for that person, and start typing or speaking if you’ve made a call.

The programme analyses speech against audio snippets from millions of previously recorded samples, and transforms the audio into a set of text candidates.

Speech disfluencies – like ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ – are removed, and the top choice among the sound-alike words is made, getting the text ready for translation.

The technology apparently knows how dozens of languages align with one another, by reviewing millions of pieces of previously translated content.

The translator applies this knowledge to quickly translate text into another language.

Increased usage and user feedback, plus constant refinement by human transcribers, will also help it get better and better.

Skype Translator will eventually support more than 40 languages including – amusingly -Klingon from the Star Trek universe.