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Is Microsoft on the Verge of a Communications Revolution with Skype?

You wouldn’t know it if you looked at it, but Skype, with the help of thousands of programmers at Microsoft, may be on the cusp of transforming human communications as we know it. How so, you ask? Well, for starters, when was the last time you understood someone speaking the ancient language of Welsh?

You wouldn’t know it if you looked at it, but Skype, with the help of thousands of programmers at Microsoft, may be on the cusp of transforming human communications as we know it. How so, you ask? Well, for starters, when was the last time you understood someone speaking the ancient language of Welsh? Probably never. But you don’t have to and probably never will, because that is the point of future releases of Skype.

First, a brief history of Skype.

In August of 2003, with the help of two Estonian programmers, Priit Kasesalu and Jaan Tallinn, Scandinavians, Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström, all of whom were developers at the former file sharing site Kazaa, began development on a free online computer telephony app that what would soon become known as Skype. After garnering millions of users worldwide in a matter of only two years, e-Bay sets its sights on Skype and eventually purchases it for $2.6 billion in September of 2005. After languishing under the control of e-Bay for some four years and subsequently converted to a freemium business model, Skype was eventually purchased by Microsoft in September of 2009 for the tidy sum of $8.5 billion.

Enter 2014, some five years later.

Telecommunications at times can be a hard and relatively slow business to conquer. While Skype has literally millions of users worldwide, Microsoft has had a tough time converting users of Skype into real paying customers, just like e-Bay experienced and thousands of other open source or freemium model hopefuls have over time. But finally, and I mean finally, Microsoft may soon be able to monetize Skype in a way it never imagined or at least when it first set its sights on it. And with a multi-billion dollar R&D budget, the company will probably make it happen.

Microsoft Research has been hard at work for years or even decades attempting to conquer the world of speech recognition and has made significant inroads with it recently. Case in point, Cortana! If you haven’t had the chance to experience it yet, visit your local mobile phone store such as AT&T or Verizon and ask to see the latest Windows Phones or high end models. A competent sales associate should be able to demonstrate some of Cortana’s capabilities quickly. Personally, I think you would be impressed, to say the least. But don’t take my word for it, see it for yourself.

That said, Microsoft is now poised to take its speech recognition technology to the next level by deploying it in Skype. And no, it is not what you’re thinking, such as “Skype, call John Doe”, a feature Windows Phone or so many other smartphones now do with ease. Rather, it will allow for real-time language translation between two users in a telephone conversation. For instance, as a U.S. caller or English speaking person, you could call a supplier in Germany not knowing a lick of German and he or she would understand you completely in his or her native language and vice versa.  

Skype will no doubt be a major game changer in voice communications if real-time translation works. It’s only a matter of time. Microsoft not only recently added free real-time group video conferencing to Skype, but it has also announced Skype for Business in 2015 (formerly Lync). It too will presumably include real-time language translation services at some point in the future, but only time will tell. As to whether or not Microsoft ever adds Welsh as a language to its speech recognition engine is another story, but the implications of this budding technology for voice communications could be immense. Think of the applications.

If Cortana is any indicator, Microsoft is well on its way to solving a major problem in global personal and business communications that has dogged humans for millennia. Let’s hope it succeeds.

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