Aiming to connect more people speaking different languages, Microsoft plans to roll out a beta version of its speech-translation technology on Skype later this year. The new Skype Translator will first be available as a Windows 8 beta app before the end of this year, wrote Gurdeep Pall, corporate vice president of Skype and Lync in a blog post. The translator is an offshoot of a research project at Microsoft designed to provide fluent, cross-lingual conversations between speakers of different languages. It is an example of why Microsoft invests in basic research, Pall wrote.
Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, just steered the company into exciting and relatively uncharted territory: near real-time speech-to-speech translation. “It’s been a dream of humanity ever since we started to speak and we wanted to cross the language boundary,” said Nadella. Speaking at Re/Code‘s inaugural Code Conference (formerly the “D Conference”) in Southern California, Nadella and Skype Corporate VP Gurdeep Singh Pall made a Skype call to a non-English-speaking German friend. Then both parties spoke to and understood each other thanks to the live translation capabilities of the Skype Translator pre-beta. “No one else does this,” Pall told me, adding, “It’s the first time something like this has been attempted.” And it’s probably something we need. English is not the most commonly spoken language in the world. By some estimates, it’s third behind Chinese (and all its variants) and Hindi.