Microsoft is expanding its real-time Skype translation tool to cover calls made to mobile phones and landlines. The software giant has announced that Windows Insiders — those who have signed up to access early builds of the Windows operating system — can now access the new features through the Skype Preview app on Windows 10.
Skype Translator was first introduced in English and Spanish back in December 2014, and it has since expanded into a number of additional languages, including Mandarin, Italian, Russian, and Arabic. It uses artificial intelligence (AI) techniques such as deep-learning to train artificial neural networks, and it should continuously improve as it listens to more conversations. Essentially, it can convert spoken chats in almost real time across nine languages in total, and more than 50 languages in text-based instant messaging.
So far, Skype Translator has been limited to Skype-to-Skype calls, but opening up to cover calls made on mobile phones and landlines goes some way toward enhancing its usefulness, as you no longer have to rely on the other person using Skype. This will be useful in many situations — particularly in the business or journalistic realm — when you need to call someone in the farthest reaches of the world, where internet connectivity is sparse or where traditional phones are simply the preferred method of communication.
For now, you will need to be signed up to the Windows Insider program, which is open to pretty much anyone, and you will need to have credit in your Skype (Preview) account, as calls outside of Skype cost money. The person receiving the call will hear a short message informing them that the call is being recorded and translated through Skype Translator, after which the conversation can commence, with only brief interludes to allow the machine to process the words and provide its interpretation.
Microsoft hasn’t revealed when the new translation smarts will graduate from beta testing, but now that it’s open to the public through the Windows Insider program, it should find its way into the full version of the app fairly swiftly.