At this year’s Code Conference, Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, announced that the new Skype Translation tool would be launched on Windows 8 phones before the end of the year.
Skype, a Swedish-Estonian start-up launched in 2003, was acquired by Microsoft for US$8.5 billion in 2011. It boasts 300 million users monthly, according to Microsoft.
Mr Nadella suggested that the program was capable of learning autonomously. “If you teach it English, it learns English,” he said. “Then you teach it Mandarin, it learns Mandarin, but it becomes better at English. Then you teach it Spanish – it’ll get good at Spanish, but it’ll get great at both Mandarin and English, and quite frankly none of us know exactly why.”
Microsoft is comparing the product to Star Trek’s “Universal Translator”, which allowed human protagonists to understand their Klingon and Jem’Hadar antagonists.
But we’ve seen translation tools like this before right? Google Translate, Facebook post translation, speech to text translation software…the list goes on. So what makes this tool so special? Currently, probably not much. While the speech translation aspect of it is certainly a strong point, the fact still remains that machine translation is not 100% accurate, and it really needs to be close to that in order for it to serve its purpose. Otherwise, what is the point if you can never be sure of the details of the other party’s conversation.
But perhaps what makes this translation tool stand out the most is that it has Microsoft’s backing, and therefore with enough revenue and development thrown at the issue, perhaps a proficient translation tool can be achieved in the near future.