MICROSOFT HAS ANNOUNCED that Skype will soon be able to translate voice conversations on-the-fly.
Microsoft had already demonstrated the progress of its translation engine by providing simultaneous multilingual subtitles to the webcast of its recent Windows 8.1 update and Windows Phone 8.1 launch.
Speech recognition has been high on the agenda at Microsoft, with the launch of its Siri equivalent Cortana at the same event, but simultaneous translation is seen as a holy grail, and given the number of languages, dialects, accents and individual nuances it will be no mean feat.
"We felt speech translation was a very natural evolution of the text-translation work we've been doing," says Chris Wendt, program manager at Microsoft's Machine Translation team.
"It's an exciting project, and it became clear that adding this capability to Skype and enabling people to have translated conversations was the killer scenario to get this technology into customers' hands."
Microsoft will begin a limited rollout to Skype customers using Windows 8 later this year, as the company continues to search for killer features to lure users away from Windows 7.
We ran the first few paragraphs of this article through the Bing translate engine into Portugeuse and then back into English to see if we could trip it up, but it did an almost word perfect transition there and back.
How well it will fare with language idioms, dialects and nuances of speech remains to be seen, but in the demonstration video below, you can already see that this is a technology to watch and it will be interesting to see how Microsoft's rivals counter it. µ