Microsoft’s Skype has long enabled people in different parts of the world to communicate with one another through video, voice, and text chat. Now the service is looking to expand those capabilities by testing out a feature that could allow people who don’t speak the same language to talk with each other.
Today at the first annual CODE Conference, Microsoft head of Skype and Lync Gurdeep Singh Pall showed off a new speech-to-speech translation technology that the company is looking to introduce in future versions of its Skype products. The feature, which Skype is hoping to roll out in beta later this year, translates speech from one language to another in near real-time.
As it was demoed, the feature translated Pall’s speech from English into text for transcription on a colleague’s screen in German, and also into voice in German… and vice versa.
In a chat before the demo, Pall said “Skype is about bringing people closer, and breaking down barriers.” That started with the idea of cheap international calling and expanded into face-to-face communications via video. Now it’s taking on the challenge of breaking the language barrier.
The feature was a collaboration between Skype, Bing, Microsoft’s Research Lab, which has long been working on natural language processing and machine learning for a while. Language recognition is powered by the same technology as Microsoft’s Cortana personal assistant on Windows 8.1.
At the conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that the feature would be avialable later this year, and that the company would try to launch it on as many devices and apps as possible.