Microsoft boldly goes to prove Star Trek’s Universal Translator is not a galaxy away

28 May 2014

Gurdeep Pall, corporate vice-president of Skype and Lync at Microsoft, demonstrates real-time speech translation to veteran tech writers Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher

Microsoft has revealed a real-time translation technology for its popular Skype video communications platform similar to the Universal Translator in Star Trek will emerge as a beta app for Windows 8 before the end of 2014.

At the Code Conference in Ranchos Palos Verdes, California, last night, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the company is going to focus intensely on creating software platforms that boost productivity.

He said the world is entering a more personal, more human era of computing and can be succinctly summed up as the post-PC era of multiscreen, touch devices and cloud platforms.

Three years ago, Microsoft bought Skype for US$8.5bn and one of the unexpected fruits of that acquisition has been revealed in the form of a real-time translation tool which is the result of combining Skype’s and Microsoft’s Translations team.

The demo showed near real-time audio translation from English to German and vice-versa, combining Skype voice and IM technologies with Microsoft Translator, and neural network-based speech recognition.

Gurdeep Pall, corporate vice-president of Skype and Lync at Microsoft, showed the Star Trek vision for a Universal Translator isn’t a galaxy away.

‘We are limited only by the power of our imaginations’

“Its potential is every bit as exciting as those Star Trek examples. Skype Translator opens up so many possibilities to make meaningful connections in ways you never could before in education, diplomacy, multilingual families and in business.”

He said Skype Translator first will be available as a Windows 8 beta app before the end of 2014.

Skype itself has more than 300m users across the planet and more than 2bn minutes of conversations take place every day across PCs, tablets, smartphones and connected TVs.

“In our industry, we often talk about pursuing big, bold dreams, and of how we’re limited only by the power of our imaginations. Skype Translator is one of those endeavours, and I look forward to keeping you apprised of our journey to break down another barrier to human productivity and connection,” Pall said.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years