Microsoft is aiming to break down language barriers by making its Skype Translator preview available to anyone who wants to download it. Previously downloadable only after users had completed an online sign-up form, the real-time translation application can now be used by anyone running Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 preview on a PC or tablet, Microsoft said on Tuesday.
Announced last December in preview form, Skype Translator combines the statistical smarts gleaned from real-life translations with more advanced machine learning's deep neural network-enabled capabilities. Microsoft said its research teams have spent more than a decade working to hone its automated translation technologies.
Now available as a download from the Windows Store, the latest version of the application -- still described as a "preview" -- supports real-time, spoken translations in four languages: English, Spanish, Italian and Mandarin. It also offers automatic instant messaging translations in 50 languages.
Skype Translator 'Almost a Third Speaker'
"While speech recognition has been an important research topic for decades, widespread adoption of the technology had been stymied by high error rates and sensitivity to speaker variation, noise conditions, etc.," Microsoft Group Program Managers Mo Ladha and Chris Wendt said last year in a post on the Garage & Updates blog. "The advent of deep neural networks for speech recognition, pioneered by Microsoft Research, dramatically reduced error rates and improved robustness, finally enabling the use of this technology in broad contexts such as Skype Translator."
While the application remains in preview form, Microsoft plans to continue seeking feedback from early users and use that information to help improve its translation capabilities, according to Ladha and Wendt.
"(T)here are specific challenges inherent in the user experience of language translation," they noted in a description of how the technology works. "The automated translator in Skype Translator appears almost as a third speaker. We have seen that customers who are used to speaking through a human interpreter are quickly at ease with the situation. Others require some getting used to this new mode of interaction."
Aiming for 'as Many Languages as Possible'
Among the early users who have been testing Skype Translator and providing feedback to Microsoft is a women-focused non-profit called Pro Mujer. The Skype application has helped U.S.-based staff members more easily communicate with field offices in Central America without having to be fluent in Spanish. Besides making it easier to have face-to-face, virtual conversations, Skype Translator has also helped build relationships between staff members in different countries, the organization said.
Microsoft also tested the application by having children in elementary schools in Mexico City and Tacoma speak with one another and ask questions to learn more about where they lived.
"Our goal for Skype Translator is to translate as many languages as possible on relevant platforms," Yasmin Khan with Skype Product Marketing wrote in a blog post. Eventually, the company aims to be able to deliver speech translation capabilities for the more than 300 million people who currently use Skype, she said.
In January, Google also announced new updates to its online Google Translate tool. Among some of the new capabilities it rolled out are camera-based translations for navigating streets and cities in other countries and faster support for real-time translated conversations on Android devices. Google said it provides more than one billion translations every day.
Posted: 2015-05-13 @ 12:46pm PT
Users running Windows 8 or Windows 10 are not "everyone." Time to change from Skype to an open, interoperable protocol.