Should humanity ever encounter an alien race, one of the biggest problems we’ll have to deal with is in finding ways to communicate with them. Science fiction, and Star Trek in particular, has always solved this problem with a fantastical little gadget called the Universal Translator. Thanks to Microsoft the UT isn’t just fantasy anymore.
Ironically the Microsoft device was developed by a researcher named Dr. Frank Soong. If you’re a Star Trek fan that last name should sound familiar. In Next Generation lore Dr. Noonian Soong was the mind behind the creation of Data.
The real life Dr. Soong unveiled his language translator this week at a presentation on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington. During the demo Soong demonstrated how his software could take the words of his boss and then repeat his words back to them in different languages using the man’s voice. Soong’s invention is being called the Translator Hub and Info Week says Microsoft plans to make it free to use, with over 26 languages pre-installed and ready to go.
This is very much the way Star Trek’s Universal Translator is supposed to work, repeating your words in a different language while still using your voice. Soong’s device isn’t quite as advanced, it takes at least an hour of training to learn how to use it, and it can’t translate a language unless that language is first programmed into it. The Translator Hub is more like a first generation version of the Universal Translator, which in Trek mythology isn’t supposed to be invented until 2151. I’d say we’re ahead of schedule.