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Microsoft Translator: New tech can handle group chats in real time

New Microsoft Translator tech can translate conversations involving multiple speakers using nine different languages in real time.
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Written by Nick Heath on

Microsoft hopes to release a mobile app by the end of year to translate multi-lingual conversations involving a group of speakers, all in real time.

Whereas the Microsoft Translator mobile apps that are available today can translate conversations involving two speakers, Microsoft says by the end of the year the new app will support multiple speakers using nine languages.

The firm demoed a prototype of a mobile app powered by Microsoft Translator that showed three people engaged in a conversation, each speaking a different language, French, English and German.

Each speaker had a phone app, which displayed written text, showing the real-time translation of the other person's speech, as shown below.

In the demo at the Microsoft Future Decoded event in London, a transcript of the conversation was also shown in a fourth language, Chinese and even the fictional language of Klingon.

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The three app screens showing the real-time translations of the conversation offered by the new Microsoft Translator service.

Image: Nick Heath / ZDNet

"The idea is to say 'Everybody has a smart device, a smartphone or a tablet. What if we could harness the power of those smart devices to enable real-time, multilingual conversation translation for an in-person situation?'," said Olivier Fortana, director of product strategy for Microsoft Translator, in a pitch that suggested the translation service might be available offline.

While the speech recognition in the demo didn't always work, Fortana said the translation service is being worked upon and that Microsoft hopes to release a preview by the end of the year, with support for 60 languages for text translations and for translating nine spoken languages. The feature will be available via web browsers and the mobile Microsoft Translator apps for Windows, iOS and Android.

Fortana says the firm is consistently working on improving the quality of speech recognition for its translation services and adding support for additional languages, most recently adding Russian. As well as translation being integrated into Microsoft's communication platform Skype, the firm also offers Translator apps for Android, iOS and Windows, including an offline translation engine.

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