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Sci-Fi Reality: New Skype tool translates multilingual calls in real-time

21st Century Wire says…

Until now, this kind of technology has been relegated to science fictional scenarios, of devices used by Captain Kirk in Star Trek, or impossible feats of data processing like with C3PO in Star Wars. Just imagine, all this is now available on your laptop or smartphone via Skype…

On one level, this is a breakthrough for everyday ‘pedestrian’ level Artificial Intelligence (AI). First described in science fiction literature in 1945, with Murray Leinster‘s book First Contact, this ‘universal translator’ could offer an instant translation – in any language

In our present day world, the prospect of computerized, universal translation brings up some serious ethical and moral dilemmas, like those visited in Sydney Pollack’s 2005 film, The Interpreter, where  inside the United Nations, diplomacy and peace between nations is completely reliant on the services of human translators.

It seems almost inevitable that computers will eventually take over the lion’s share of administrative translation work worldwide. Although humans can be prone to emotion and beliefs which may skew a translation’s true meaning, it is not altogether certain whether or not a computer will be able to do a better job, or whether certain programmed biases, or manipulation of results could come as a result of leaving the entire job to the machines.

Watch this space: One area in which this potentially revolutionary new Skype App will take off like a rocket is in the international online dating world, where vulnerable (but fairly wealthy) middle aged sugar daddies worldwide fish endlessly for ‘mail order’ spouses; Russian, Filipino or Thai brides.

The other area which will undoubtedly be transformed is with international small to medium-sized business (SMB) trade between operators in the west and their counterparts in China and Asia.

On many levels, this is perhaps one of the biggest breakthroughs in terms of communication yet…

The Switch

It’s not the Universal Translator of our Star Trek-inspired dreams, but it’s still pretty impressive.

On Monday, Skype showed off a preview of a new tool in the works that provides automated, nearly simultaneous translation between Spanish and English during video calls. Basically, you just have your conversation as normal (well, maybe a little slower than normal) and the program will convert your words between languages automatically. You also get a written transcript of your conversation as you go.

To show off the tool, Skype set up a game between two elementary school classes: one in Tacoma, Wash. and one in Mexico City. The two groups had to figure out, Twenty Questions-style, where the other classroom of kids lived.

The adorable and impressive result is below…

Yes, it’s not a fluid conversation. You may not want to use it for high-profile negotiations or sensitive conversations. But it’s pretty darn good — especially if Skype incorporates it into the free version of its software.

Language is a big problem for tech to tackle, but  there’s no denying that we’ve come a long way. Rather than phrase books and dictionaries, a lot of tourists are now content to pack their smartphones with apps such as Google Translate when taking short trips abroad. And language-learning apps such as Duolingo or a number of keyboard apps are taking off in popularity as a supplement to more formal language education — or for people who just want to flirt with the idea of being multilingual.

In the future, Skype engineers said that they’re looking to expand it to more languages, and continue to teach the product the different conversational tics in a number of languages. The firm hasn’t said exactly which languages are next in line for development, but those interested in registering for the preview can express interest in the following: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), French, Italian, Korean, Russian, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and English…

Continue this story at The Switch

READ MORE SCI-TECH NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire Sci-Tech Files 



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