Remember 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