On Star Trek, it’s understood that no two alien species speak the same language. And yet, when Captain Kirk hails the Vulcan ship, it seems that everyone is speaking English. This is all thanks to the handy-dandy Universal Translator, which brings communication to everyone by translating foreign languages into the listener’s native language. Taking a cue from Star Trek, Microsoft has created something similar for video-based chat service Skype.
Microsoft’s Skype Translator works in real-time. You, an English speaker, can call someone in France and begin a conversation, without any knowledge of French. The software translates what that person is saying and speaks it to you in English and vice versa.
This software comes out of decades of research by Microsoft in the areas of speech recognition, automatic translation and machine learning.
In Microsoft’s demo of the software, a Skype call was easily translated from English into German and back again. There is one limitation to the software, though: you have to wait until the other person is speaking before translation begins, so it’s not exactly like Star Trek’s Universal Translator, but it sure is close. And it’s much better than putting a fish in your ear for translation, like in A Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy.
We don’t have to wait long for this technology either. Microsoft states it should be available by the end of this year. Of course, it will only be limited to a handful of languages, but expect more language support as the system matures. Soon, we’ll all be connecting with others all over the world and language will no longer be a barrier in our communications.