When Skype announced its real-time translation program back in May, most of us seized on the sci-fi-ness off it all—Star Trek’s universal translator, Babel fish, etc. But the technology is very real, and has been for years, just it separate pieces. Skype Translator is is the commercial culmination of those efforts, bringing all those things, like speech recognition, automated translation, and machine learning, into one program.
This week Skype began rolling out the “first phase” of Translator, a beta version of the service’s live speech translating feature (between Spanish and English for now) and text translation for 40+ languages.
The promise of breaking down the global language barrier is a lofty one—solving the human speech puzzle with all its nuance and imperfection would give our machines a skill that has forever been uniquely human. Skype Translator doesn’t quite reach it. Not yet, anyway.