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Ars Reviews Skype Translator 71

Esra Erimez writes Peter Bright doesn't speak a word of Spanish but with Skype Translator he was able to have a spoken conversation with a Spanish speaker as if he was in an episode of Star Trek. He spoke English. A moment later, an English language transcription would appear, along with a Spanish translation. Then a Spanish voice would read that translation.
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Ars Reviews Skype Translator

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  • NSA (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    now NSA can listen in on any Skype conversation worldwide and have it conveniently translated for them without needing extra staff. pretty sweet!

    • Re:NSA (Score:4, Interesting)

      by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Thursday December 18, 2014 @07:13PM (#48629703)
      Skype was never P2P, it was always connected through a central server. And the voice to text was always there, and will likely be how the NSA spies, as it's easier to search a transcript for "shiny bomb" than searching unindexed audio for the same thing.

      The "new" thing here is reading the transcript real-time (well, real, after the translation is done).Voice to text is solved (not perfect). Translation is solved (not perfect), text to voice is solved (not perfect). This may be the first one to tie them all together, but doesn't break new ground.

      Call me when Skype supports P2P connections, or IPv6.
      • Call me when Skype supports P2P connections, or IPv6.

        There are other products that let you do that already. We're talking about real-time audio translation from one language to another at the moment.

        • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
          That's a solved problem. I've used speech to text, text to speech and translate to do the same thing. Rolling it into a popular program is the "new" thing. But there are some very basic things it can't do that should be higher on the list than solving an already solved problem.
          • What are the "basic things it can't do"? (I'm not disagreeing, I'm just asking what you mean.)

            BTW, I would not say that real-time audio translation is a solved problem. It only works for a handful of well-resourced languages in restricted domains, where S2T and MT (and to a lesser extent T2S) work reasonably well.

            • by AK Marc ( 707885 )

              What are the "basic things it can't do"?

              It was never P2P, despite assertions to the contrary (it always used a supernode, but could make the supernode be within one of the call members, back in V 1.0). It also doesn't work over IPv6. If you don't have a V4 stack loaded locally, the application will crash, even if you have V4/V6 NAX/XLAT that would connect you to the V4 server. It's deliberately engineered to break V6, by MS, who is pushing Lync and trying to keep "free Skype" from being the go-to communications platform. They can't monetize i

              • Not sure exactly what you're saying, and in fact I said I was NOT disagreeing.

                To be more specific, I'm sure there is no Skype translator (nor any other speech-to-speech translator) between Navajo and Yup'ik, both of which are relatively low density languages (i.e. few computational resources). And no one has (afaik) made even a text-based MT system between either of these languages and English (or some other interlingua), much less between the two of them. (Might be easier between Navajo and Gwich'in, I s

                • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
                  Yes. The UN languages. We can translate between them in "real time" today (actually near-real-time, as people misuse "real-time" as being quick enough they don't notice, rather than actually real-time, which is impossible with translations).

                  The red ... car. In Spanish "...[pause, not real time] El Auto Roja" You must wait for the English statement to end before you can start translating the Spanish version, as the tense, gender, and such (not to mention inflection and other non-literal meaning) must be
      • by Ksevio ( 865461 )
        It connected to a central server but the voice information was transferred P2P in the past- MS has replaced it mostly with their own servers as relays because routing is so troublesome.
      • by jamesl ( 106902 )

        AK Marc wrote, "Skype was never P2P ... "

        Wikipedia tells us:
        Skype uses a proprietary Internet telephony (VoIP) network called the Skype protocol. The protocol has not been made publicly available by Skype and official applications using the protocol are closed-source. Part of the Skype technology relies on the Global Index P2P protocol belonging to the Joltid Ltd. corporation. The main difference between Skype and standard VoIP clients is that Skype operates on a peer-to-peer model (originally based on the

    • Yup, NSA has full access to Skype [arstechnica.com], with their cooperation.

    • Dear Aunt, let’s set so double the killer delete select all.
  • by ArcadeMan ( 2766669 ) on Thursday December 18, 2014 @06:52PM (#48629559)

    The translation went well, but...

    The first thing that Peter heard was "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

  • So what did they talk about? Klingons? Or how Giordi always fixes everything with a temporal field reversal?
    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      It's a reverse tachyon pulse from the main deflector that does it.
      • It's a reverse tachyon pulse from the main deflector that does it.

        Just be careful though. One tachyon out of place, and you have 30 seconds of suspenseful mucic, then a core breach!

  • One annoyance... (Score:4, Informative)

    by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Thursday December 18, 2014 @07:01PM (#48629627)

    The translation is only available if you use Windows 8.

    There's no technical reason for this. It's a simple business issue. Microsoft wants people to upgrade to Windows 8. Microsoft owns Skype. So it's obvious what happened: Someone called the Skype management and told them that any new features are to be Windows 8 exclusive in future.

    I'm really surprised Microsoft haven't ordered the linux client discontinued yet.

    • Google+ (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mmell ( 832646 ) on Thursday December 18, 2014 @07:34PM (#48629833)
      Worthless. A complete failure. Except . . .

      It just so happens to have a video chat capability that integrates quite well into the Android ecosystem. It's actually superior in some ways to Skype, but (being part of Google +) nobody has ever heard of it - not even the NSA (?). Microsoft doesn't want to screw Skype up badly enough to force people to discover any of a number of alternatives. RIght now, the only thing maintaining Skype's dominance in video chat is the size of the user base. Force [Linux|Android|iOS|downlevel M$] users to find an alternative and that advantage disappears. Users are so damned fickle that way . . .

    • One annoyance... (Score:5, Informative)

      by vikman ( 695272 ) on Thursday December 18, 2014 @07:34PM (#48629835) Homepage
      I work on Skype Translator. Given the complexity of the technology in the back-end, the team looked for a client code base that was fast to experiment with, develop and release on - and so the modern windows 8 app seems like a good way to go - no other nefarious reason. Also, users of skype translator can call other Skype clients (Skype Desktop is officially supported, while I have certainly called ios, xbox on other clients successfully).
      • I was just about to say... this is a preview. I wouldn't expect pre-release versions of the new feature to be rolled out across all platforms. We can hope that it will happen once the feature leaves beta, though.

      • Knowing that you work on Skype, could you please ask the folks responsible for the instant text messaging code to remove that stupid idea of converting *text* in text? Or at least make this feature can be disabled permanently by the user (the actual hack is lost when Skype is closed)?
      • I expect speculation and grumbling to continue no matter what you say, until the feature is made available across all platforms. I understand it's basically a PR stunt at this point - the first demonstration of a technology that has great potential but is still some years away from maturity, and I imagine a feature to draw business customers' attention to Skype. They'd find translation to be a very valuable feature indeed.

  • by Kittenman ( 971447 ) on Thursday December 18, 2014 @07:44PM (#48629889)
    I noticed that once I cut off the video stream, the meaning of what I was saying changed completely.

    (Con apologie per nostri amici Italiani)
  • by Anonymous Coward

    It worked AWESOME! ...once he worked through several bugs, talked to a Microsoft rep instead of the friend he was originally trying to reach, and learned to adjust to a conversation cadence worse than the old style satellite phones...

    Sounds like they have work to do. It's impressive, yes, but it's not nearly the glowing product they just published in that puff piece.

  • by v1 ( 525388 ) on Thursday December 18, 2014 @08:13PM (#48630031) Homepage Journal

    how can you possibly not link to an a/v demo or review of this, in the thread OR in the review???

    I went looking on youtube and found a metric crapton of copies of the MS demo. I don't want to watch the publisher's demo, of course it's going to be flawless. (and quite possibly rigged) They've successfully flooded the actual honest review demos into oblivion on youtube. Anyone got a link to a review with A/V test?

    • Microsoft Marketing (Score:4, Informative)

      by Tenebrousedge ( 1226584 ) <tenebrousedge.gmail@com> on Thursday December 18, 2014 @10:30PM (#48630765)

      how can you possibly not link to an a/v demo or review of this, in the thread OR in the review???

      So they could sneak in a subtle advertisement for Surface tablets. The reviewer does not seem to have been allowed to take his own photos or video, given that the photo credit is for Microsoft.

      Also, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo." The article states clearly that this did not work outside of conditions that were carefully controlled by Microsoft. On that note, the writer exclusively covers Microsoft news.

      All in all, this should be treated as a press release, not a review.

    • by vikman ( 695272 )
      There is no constraint on any reviewers (or real users) about taking own photos or videos... there are of course (as with most new product launches) screenshots, how-to videos, user guides etc. that are made available by Microsoft. Given the preview just started, more hands-on reviews are just making their way out. Several have been posted already - and are pretty representative of the diversity of experiences ("magical/awesome" to "can't handle my accent/recognize my speech"), and have continued to be help
  • by mishehu ( 712452 ) on Thursday December 18, 2014 @08:19PM (#48630073)
    This is something we've been able to do for ages now in FreeSWITCH. I'm pretty sure that the more complex the speech input, the less accurate the system gets as human language is very difficult to decode as a machine. If this wasn't the case, we wouldn't be yelling at those IVR systems that ask us to say X to speak to Nina in corporate accounts payable and we always end up getting transferred to Milton instead...
  • Puff piece for Skype and lousy summary with no analysis whatsover of very well known translation problems.

    Meantime to lighten things up:
    Translator joke:
    A Mexican bandit robbed a bank. The sheriff and his bilingual deputy captured him, and the sheriff, who couldn't speak Spanish, asked him where he'd hidden the money. "No se nada," said the bandit.
    The sheriff put a gun to the bandit's head and said to his deputy: "Tell him, if he doesn't tell us where the money is, I'll blow his brains out."
    Upon receiving th

  • This speech translator is trés cool.

    For a while I've been bugging techies with my conception of 'subtitle sunglasses'. These would be 'ordinary' glasses that would have microphones and nano-technology CPUs inside the frame. The microphones would hear the speech of the person that you are looking at (who is speaking a foreign language), translate that speech into English, and display the text of the translation onto the bottom of the user's frame. Like subtitles in a foreign movie for those of you wh

    • You could get Google Glass and make it do this. However that is a little more expensive than $500, which is a very unlikely number for the near future, as those magical nano-tech CPUs don't exactly exist (we don't have nano-tech yet...) and miniaturization gets expensive fast. Just use your cell phone, likely there is an app for it that will do what you need, though it is likely to require an internet connection to a SIRI type system to do the voice to text.

      • OK Google does translations, just say something like "OK Google, translate to Spanish, where is the library."

        It then shows the translation on the screen while also speaking it through the speakers.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's only use is to speak with mexicans? I'm not sure I see the application here.

  • by mwissel ( 869864 ) on Friday December 19, 2014 @04:57AM (#48631997) Homepage

    Well, I can only judge the quality of the automated translation with regards to the second screenshot in TFA (EnglishGerman) and I have to say that it's just as miserable, and also hardly intelligible, as I had expected. It is even worse than what you would get with Google Translate. Obviously neither of the two involved speak a word of German, otherwise they had never used this for their article.

    Example:

    Source: "oh ok, nevermind about that call I got it"
    My translation: "oh ok, schon gut wegen des Anrufs, habe verstanden"
    Skype translation: "über diesen Anruf habe ich es"
    Actual meaning of Skype's translation: "over this call I have it"

    I suspect that without some proficiency in the source language, you will hardly ever be able to comprehend what the meaning of the translated sentences is.

    It is the same problem with all current-gen computer assisted translation that there is so much ambiguity in human language. Another very good example for that can also be seen in that screenshot where "second" was translated as "zweite" which is one possible translation but actually "Sekunde" would be correct.

    Until this is resolved, I would not exactly call it technology like from an episode of Star Trek.

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