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Microsoft can nearly eliminate background noise in video now

The software giant says it built the new technology for its corporate customers, but it could also someday end up in Skype or on your phone.

James Martin/CNET

Microsoft has been using artificial intelligence technology to teach computers to automatically create closed-captions for voice chats and meetings, teach apps to create to-dos just by listening to you talk, and translate what people are saying in different languages in real time. Now the company is taking on background noise.

The software giant said Monday that it's come up with new ways to potentially remove the annoying environmental noises we often hear when people start a video chat or call us from a street corner, work site or coffee shop. So far, the technology works with prerecorded video uploaded to Microsoft's Stream video service for corporate customers, promising to "easily silence background noise with just one click."

"It's so distracting," said Christina Torok, a marketing manager at Microsoft for Stream, talking about background noise. She said the company's tested its new technology in busy conference halls and construction sites, among other locations.

"We're trying to continue to look at ways where we can bring intelligence into video and make it easier for people to use," she added, comparing it to Microsoft's popular background blur technology that's available for corporate customers and everyday people through Skype.

Microsoft declined to discuss future plans for the technology, but it's easy to think of other uses for an effective background noise remover. People already pay hundreds of dollars for noise-cancelling headphones, the most high-profile new ones being Apple's $249 AirPods Pro, announced last month.

The announcement came as part of Microsoft's Ignite corporate customer-focused conference in Florida this week. The company also used the event to show off a new version of its Office app for phones and tablets, new social networking-inspired technology for corporate clients and new prototype technology to store data on glass.

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Originally published Nov. 4, 12:18 p.m. PT.
Update, Nov. 7: Adds details about technology's limitations.