Microsoft's Skype Translator, which automatically converts some voice calls and IMs between languages, has been available to beta testers for some time, but Redmond has now opened it up as a Preview to the general public – provided they have the right operating system.
In addition, instant messages can be translated into 50 languages, including French, Japanese, Arabic, Welsh, and Klingon.
"Skype Translator is transforming communications one conversation at a time – its potential in breaking down barriers is only limited by our own imaginations!" said product manager Yasmin Khan in a blog post.
"Our goal for Skype Translator is to translate as many languages as possible on relevant platforms, and to deliver the best speech translation experience to our more than 300 million connected Skype customers."
The Translator software couples voice recognition technology with what Microsoft describes as "deep neural networks combined with Microsoft’s proven statistical machine translation technology." As of December, the system could only handle English and Spanish for voice translation, but Microsoft has now doubled the number of languages and is hoping to add more soon.
On-the-fly language translation is notoriously tricky to get right, but some sectors of the industry have ben working long and hard on the problem – not least the NSA, which wants to monitor overseas data streams without the need for hiring huge numbers of foreign language experts.
The Skype Translator Preview is only available for Windows 8.1 users, however. Microsoft says it should also work on the Windows 10 Technical Preview, but attempts to get it up and running on that operating system here in Vulture West have, so far, proved fruitless. ®