The Internet has done more over the past couple of decades to help foster communication across oceans and continents, than perhaps any technology ever invented. At the very least, it is the most important invention since the telephone.
But, as much as good as it has done, there is one area that has stood in its way of truly allowing anyone, anywhere to communicate with anyone else: language. Sure, I can Skype with someone from Israel or from Korea or wherever else around the globe, but if we don't speak the same language then they can't actually understand them, and they can't understand me. That's kind of a problem.
But now it's one that Microsoft may have just finally solved. In the immortal words of Joe Biden, "This is a big f---in deal!"
At the inaugural Code Conference, hosted by ReCode, last night, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella took the stage, where he debuted for the fist time in public a real-time translation service, which the company is calling Skype Translator.
In a demonstration of the technology, Skype vice president Gurdeep Pall joined Nadella to call a German-speaking friend of his via Skype. The call looked exactly the same as a regular Skype video call, with two people looking at each other through their webcams, except that, this time, every sentence that was uttered was then followed by an automated voice translating their words into the other language.
For technology that is still in is nescient stage, I have to say that the demonstration is pretty impressive. I was kind of expecting there to be a long gap, as they waited for the thing to get the translation right, but there is very little lag time between the person talking and the automatic translation. There were a few grammatical hiccups (a “were” instead of a “was” for example), but they were pretty minimal.
Microsoft has invested in speech recognition, automatic translation and machine learning technologies for decades now, Gurdeep Pall, Corporate Vice President of Skype and Lync at Microsoft, wrote in a blog post, and they are now being put to use in Skype Translator.
This is a really big deal, and one that could, like I said above, finally allow us to get over that final hump that stands in the way of truly global communication.
"For more than a decade, Skype has brought people together to make progress on what matters to them. Today, we have more than 300 million connected users each month, and more than 2 billion minutes of conversation a day as Skype breaks down communications barriers by delivering voice and video across a number of devices, from PCs and tablets, to smartphones and TVs,” said Pall.
"But language barriers have been a blocker to productivity and human connection; Skype Translator helps us overcome this barrier."
Microsoft is not the only company beefing up its translation services recently. Just last week Google bought Quest Visual, the company behind translation service Word Lens. The app allows users to translate printed foreign words into English using the Google Glass camera. All the user has to is look at a sign and it will automatically translated.
As cool, and useful, as that technology is, I have to say that what Microsoft is doing goes far beyond, simply because it will actually fosters greater connections between people.
This is what the Internet should always be about.
Take a look at a video of the demonstration below: