Translate between English and Spanish speech on-the-fly with Skype Translator

SolutionsRemember the Babel Fish from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? The tiny organism that automatically translates any spoken word into your native tongue? While that continues to remain limited to the realm of snarky British science fiction, Microsoft is working hard to make on-the-fly translation feasible for everyone.

The Skype Translator preview is currently available for download, and offers Windows users the ability to voice chat with each other using two different languages. It still has a long way to go before it’s ready for prime time, but this is a major step forward for worldwide communication.

Earlier this week, Microsoft released a preview version of Skype Translator to the public. While it can translate instant messages in any of over 40 languages, this early build can only translate voice chat in Spanish and English. On top of that, this preview program only works on Windows 8.x and the Windows 10 Technical Preview, so Skype fans on other platforms are currently left out in the cold. Thankfully, that’s bound to change when this feature is fully baked.

So, how exactly does this crazy translation system work? In an in-depth post on the Skype blog, Mo Ladha and Chris Wendt break down the technical aspects of Skype Translator. Using Microsoft’s deep neural networks, Skype recognizes the spoken word, and then converts that into text. From there, it uses a translation engine based on the Bing Translator to convert the text to the target language. Then, it uses text-to-speech to deliver the translated line. In a way, this works a lot like duct-taping Siri to Google Translate.

Keep in mind, this system is not at all seamless. Even with Microsoft’s impressive “learning computers” handling the voice recognition and translation, errors are inevitable. When dealing with natural speech over low-cost consumer mics, who knows what might come out the other side? Also, there is a bit of lag between finishing your thought and hearing the translation. The natural flow of conversation is drastically impacted, so the experience is quite different from conversing normally in a single language.

Flaws aside, this clever use of technology puts a big smile on my face. I frequently voice chatwith friends all over the world, but that’s only possible because they speak English. How many friends am I missing out on simply because of the language barrier? I can’t see myself relying on this preview version just yet, but this leaves me very optimistic about the future of the Skype Translator and on-the-fly translation in general. – Gleaned from extremetech.com

Netflix says offline viewing is never going to happen Don’t get your hopes up for watching Netflix on an airplane anytime soon.

Speaking to TechRadar, Netflix spokesman Cliff Edwards made clear that the streaming video service will never allow offline viewing. “It’s never going to happen,” he said. Edwards said offline viewing was just a “short term fix for a bigger problem” of faster, more widespread Wi-Fi access. He expects that in five years, most people won’t even care about offline downloads.

It’s a lovely sentiment, but it also seems like wishful thinking. Currently, most in-flight Wi-Fi on U.S. airlines is too slow for streaming video and doesn’t work on transatlantic flights. While some airlines are starting to switch to faster satellite connections that work over water, it’s unclear whether these connections will be the norm by the end of the decade, or how they’ll even hold up if every passenger starts using them to stream Netflix.

The bigger problem is that these connections don’t come cheap. Wi-Fi on a cross-country flight can easily cost $15 to $20, and providers sometimes inflate prices further to discourage congestion. Given the potential buffering issues that can arise with streaming, at that point it’s just cheaper and easier to watch what the airline is showing or pay for satellite TV service where available.

The story behind the story: Netflix is likely covering for the fact that offline viewing would be a licensing nightmare. While rival Amazon allows downloads of Prime Instant Videos, this requires a Fire phone or Kindle Fire tablet and may have viewing period restrictions. YouTube has also flirted with offline viewing, but mainly in emerging markets. Besides, five years hardly seems “short-term” in the world of technology, so perhaps Netflix should go back to its earlier stance that the market for this feature is just too small to begin with. – Gleaned from pcworld.com

Microsoft takes on scummy tech-support companies

Stock Trader Looking At Multiple MonitorsIn late December 2014, Microsoft filed a lawsuit against a U.S.-based company that’s been
accused of massive tech-support fraud.

If you’ve been the victim of a phony “tech support” call — or you know someone who has —
it might be payback time.

In what’s probably the first legal action of its kind, Microsoft is suing a tech-support company for trademark infringement, unfair competition, false advertising, and cybersquatting. According to the complaint (PDF), the defendants are the owners of Consumer Focus Services, a Los Angeles–based company that operates under various names such as Omni Tech Support,
FixNow, and Techsupport Pro. The complaint also names other companies and describes the
fraud as “a web of related entities that perpetrate technical support scams on Microsoft software
and device users.”

No doubt you’ve at least heard of scammers purporting to be from Microsoft Tech Support.
This type of fraud occurs worldwide and probably rakes in billions of ill-gotten dollars. I
warned Windows Secrets readers about these scum in the Feb. 3, 2011, Top Story, “Watch
out for ‘Microsoft Tech Support’ scams.” And Fred Langa related a reader’s experience in the
Feb. 28, 2013, Top Story, “Security alert: Bogus tech-support phone calls.”

The scams take many forms, but the general outline goes something like this:
A “Microsoft support” person calls and states that your PC reported one or more “infections.”
The caller then requests that you let him examine your system remotely. (In a common variation
of the scam, you respond to an ad that promises to cure all your computer’s ills.)
If you let the bogus support person into your machine, he’ll soon “discover” dozens of
“serious infections” and other “critical problems” that need to be fixed immediately. All you
have to do is hand over your credit card to make your system right.

If you’re lucky, the support person will have pretended to fix the “problems” and you’ll only
be somewhat poorer for the experience. If you’re a bit less lucky, your PC will be in slightly
worse shape than it was. In the worst cases, the bogus support person will leave malware
behind, just as a thank-you.

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