Microsoft introduces real time translator for Skype

Who needs to learn a foreign language?

The great thing about Skype is that you can speak to people around the world. The other great thing is that you can talk to lots of people, all at the same time. But the benefits are not so great if the participants in a Skype call all speak different languages.

The solution comes with a new real-time voice translation for Skype, produced by its parent company Microsoft.

At the moment, the Microsoft tool only works between English and Spanish, but this is just the beginning.

Of course non real-time translation of text is not new. It is pretty good, but not always perfect. Translating a phase from English to French, and that same phrase from French to Spanish, and then to Chinese and then back to English means that errors creep in – of course they do.

Then again, these days algorithms learn and translation tools will get better as a consequence.

However, voice translation is surely another matter. You can have an amusing time giving Siri instructions, only for it mishear you. Think how much harder real-time voice translation is.

But then you may noticed Siri is getting better, so too will voice translation.

Imagine products such as Google Glass becoming more common, and that they come pre-loaded with real-time voice translation.

Of course, science fiction has been in love with such ideas for years. Star Trek has its voice translator. Douglas Adams even came up with the idea of a Babel fish – a tiny fish-like creature that you could insert in your ear whereupon, via telepathy, it could translate every language in the universe.

We are not that at that level yet, and no doubt the Skype tool will have enough teething problems to keep technology cynics busy for some time.

That’s science fiction. In the real world, voice translation is coming. Within a few years we will be able to hold a conversation with people from across the world in multiple languages.

It all begs the question: will we need to learn a foreign language at school?

For that matter, will we have a voice translator for regional accents.

This is what iDisrupted had to say on the matter:

“If augmented reality devices advance so much that, when we hear someone speaking in a language we do not know, they can translate the words on the fly, and even applying the same nuances and vocal tones of the person we are speaking to, will we need to learn foreign languages any more? Or, for that matter, if we listen to people speaking the same language, but with a strong regional dialect, will augmented reality translate the words? Will such debates as whether we pronounce the word bath, as in calf or as in math, be made redundant by augmented reality? Will that Fred Astaire song with the line: “You say tomato, I say tomato” become as meaningless when spoken out loud as it is when written down?. . .

“In time we will be able to download learning modules into our brain, so that we wouldn’t need to learn how to drive for instance, the knowledge would be downloaded instead – not that we will need to drive when we have self-driving cars. Will we be able to download knowledge of a foreign language? – not that we will need to learn a foreign language when augmented reality gives us the real world equivalent of Douglas Adams’ Babel fish, from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.”