How Microsoft Created Its ‘Star Trek’ Voice Translator For Skype

Today, you can translate almost any word, phrase or document by simply plugging it into a search engine.

Microsoft, however, is envisioning a future where you’ll be able to hold a conversation with anyone around the world without the obstacle of language barriers.

At Re/code’s inaugural Code Conference, Microsoft unveiled it’s real-time speech translator for Skype—a technology that conjures up references to “Star Trek” and “A Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” that’s been in the works for years.

The demo made the technology look natural and fluid—simply speak as you would in normal conversation, and the person on the other side would hear your words followed by a clean translation in their preferred language.

The “Star Trek”-like translator will become available before the end of 2014.

Vikram Dendi, a technical and strategy advisor for Microsoft Research, was brought on to the team five years ago specifically to work on translation technology.

We spoke with Dendi to learn a little more about how Microsoft created its real-time translator. Here’s the lightly edited Q&A.

Business Insider: When Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella talked about Skype’s real-time translator on stage, he emphasized how humanistic the technology is. What has Microsoft done to make the translations seem natural and conversational?

Vikram Dendi: So one of the early realizations for us as we were investing in translation was that it was really important that we don’t think like computers.

We don’t think like computers.

It was really important that we think of it as a human communication problem. While we were doing very cutting edge work on the computer science side, we were also looking very closely into how people communicated with each other.

I used to spend a lot of time going to a number of different countries where I’d interact with translators. And I came to the realization that no translators agrees 100 percent on how is best to translate something. If you take something and give it to two different translators, there will be a variation in how they translate.

Ultimately the end goal is to really create an understanding. So a lot of the work that we have done in our translation engine was really around creating a lot of flexibility and customizability.

For example we have something called a Translator Hub. The Translator Hub allows you to bring in — For more information read the original article here.    

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