Satya Nadella may have underwhelmed at the Code Conference (the powwow held by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher that used to be called D Conference back when they were with All Things D) but a Microsoft demo has left a lot of people seriously impressed.
Skype Translator, as Microsoft is calling it, will be a real-time voice translator that lets you converse with someone who speaks another language than yours. How many languages it will support is unclear. The demo only showed German.
The translator is the result of 10 years of work by Microsoft Research. Unlike some Microsoft Research demos that are unlikely to make it to the public, this one will see the light of day soon. Microsoft expects to release a beta version before the end of 2014.
Translation is not an easy task, especially with some languages. Anyone who tried translating Chinese to English in Google Translate or Babelfish knows that. Microsoft recently released its own translation site, Bing Translate, and it is better than Google's, for now at least. Asian languages in particular make sense and don't look like jibberish.
Microsoft said it tried a variety of methods for more than a decade before taking the deep neural network path, which finally gave the company what it was looking for in terms of recognition and performance.
Some details are still unclear. For example, will Skype Translator be a part of Skype itself, or will there be a separate app? Will Microsoft give this away? That's 10 years of paying a lot of PhDs only to have no payout.
Still, it's the closest to the Star Trek universal translator we've ever seen. Now they just need to make it wearable on your chest.