Microsoft has begun taking requests for people who want to try out Skype Translator, a service that will translate a Skype conversation between two languages in real time.
Skype Translator is a hugely important undertaking for Microsoft. In July, CEO Satya Nadella named it as one of a handful of new technologies that show the new direction he envisions for the company.
Microsoft, he says, is no longer all about pushing Windows. Instead it is trying to “reinvent productivity.” Last month, Nadella explained this to mean that the company will build a new crop of apps that helps people “get more out of their time.”
He has repeatedly named four technologies that showcased this vision. Skype Translator is the last of them to become available.
The others are: Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri, available in the current version of Windows Phone; Power Q&A, an add-on cloud service for Office 365 customers, where you type in a question and it searches through your Office documents to produce a chart in answer; and Delve, an Office 365 tool that rolled out in September, and is supposed to find all the important stuff buried in your documents, calendars, contacts.
Should this translation service work well, it would be an incredible technological feather in Microsoft’s cap. It involves training its computers to understand conversations, something that’s very hard to do, as anyone who uses Siri can attest.
Ultimately this service could help Microsoft learn to understand verbal languages so well, it could help power a lot of other voice controlled apps.
Those interested in checking out Skype Translator can request to be part of a technical preview. Microsoft says it will be available later this year.
There are some restrictions. The technical preview will only be available on PCs or tablets running Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 Technical Preview, although Microsoft promises to support Macs, iOS, and Android at some later point.
Plus it is so far offering 12 languages: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Chinese (Cantonese) French, Italian, Korean, Russian, English, German, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish.