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Microsoft shows off prototype real-time translator for Skype

May 28, 2014

Reuters in Rancho Palos Verdes, California

Microsoft Corp showed off a test version of a real-time, spoken-word translation service for Skype on Tuesday, the first time the world's largest software company has demonstrated the breakthrough technology publicly in the United States.

Skype Translator, as it is called, allows speakers in different languages to hear the other's words spoken in their own language, according to a demo shown by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at the Code Conference technology gathering in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

"It is going to make sure you can communicate with anybody without language barriers," said Nadella, who took over as chief executive officer in February and is keen to re-establish the company as a technology leader after a decade of slipping behind Apple Inc and Google Inc in mobile computing.

Nadella described the underlying technology as "magical," but said the task now was to turn it into a real product rather than just a research project. He promised it would launch by the end of the year. He did not say if it would be a free add-on for Skype - the online chat service - or if users would pay a premium for it.

Immediate reaction to the demonstration, featuring an English-speaking Microsoft executive chatting with a German counterpart, was mixed. One German-speaking audience member said the translation was good enough for vacation, but not for business.

The new technology, which Microsoft demonstrated in a rougher form 18 months ago in China, could represent a significant feature for Skype, which boasts hundreds of millions of users. It is an advance on Microsoft's current translation features that only work with written words on its Bing search engine and on its Internet Explorer browser.

Microsoft has been working hard on speech recognition technology for years. Earlier this year it showed off Cortana, its voice-activated "personal assistant" designed to rival Apple'sSiri.


(China Daily05/29/2014 page10)

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Source: China Daily: Hong Kong Edition

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