Microsoft shows off a universal translator. But will it speak Klingon?

The software could one day break down language barriers

by Chris Sorensen

In the television show Star Trek, one of the key dramatic tools—other than an intergalactic spaceship—was the universal translator, which allowed Captain Kirk and his crew to converse with (and viewers to understand) Klingons and Romulans. Now, about 250 years ahead of schedule, Microsoft Corp. is developing similar technology for use here on Earth. Rick Rashid, the software giant’s chief research officer, recently demonstrated the software at a conference in Tianjin. He said a phrase in English and then, a few seconds later, a computer translated it into Chinese—using his voice. The crowd went nuts. While Rashid admitted it is a work in progress, explaining that all speech recognition and translation systems are prone to errors, the potential is obviously huge when it comes to breaking down language barriers. Not exactly a technology that will “explore strange new worlds,” but still boldly going where no one has gone before.




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