Skype is issuing invites to the beta for its translator program, a project that seeks to mediate text and voice exchanges between people who speak different languages.
Right now, Skype Translator's voice services only support English and Spanish. Its instant messaging services will translate over 40 languages, however.
The Skype Translator preview, which is only available on Windows 8.1 devices for now, is built on a machine-learning platform that translates voice and text in real time.
"Skype brings people together to make progress on what matters to them," says Gurdeep Pall, Skype's corporate vice president. "Skype Translator will open up endless possibilities for people around the world to connect, communicate and collaborate; people will no longer be hindered by geography and language."
To facilitate conversations between users who don't speak the same language, Skype Translator is using a bot that will help initiate calls and serve as a go-between during conversations.
"The translator bot acts like a third participant in the call," states a Skype representative. "It translates what you just said when you've finished talking, and it translates what the person you called said, when they finish talking."
Skype Translator will only get better with time, as more people use the platform and its machine-learning foundation grows. The more people use Skype Translator, the smarter the platform will get, Pall states.
Along with learning from conversations it has translated, Skype Translator will also self-improve by gleaning insights from captions, translated web pages and other related content. The Skype team says users have already donated conversations to the project to help create the platform's current capability and that there's much more the group would like to accomplish.
One of the issues the Skype team says it has been working through is the presence of "disfluencies" and colloquialisms. The machine-learning platform adjusts for the "ahs," "ums" and pauses that are injected into conversations -- the team admits that the platform runs into problems with disfluencies.
To address slang and colloquialisms, the Skype team says it turned to the Microsoft Translator and the software's foundation in translating content on social media platforms. Microsoft Translator has helped Skype Translator interpret casual phrases, which helps to drive the latter closer to conversational speech.
"Our long-term goal for speech translation is to translate as many languages as possible on as many platforms as possible and deliver the best Skype Translator experience on each individual platform for our more than 300 million connected users," says Pall.