Ars Technica reports, and the BBC confirmed with Google that over the past few days Google Translate has been taking a few liberties with its service. According to screenshots posted on the Vkontakte social network, GT’s Ukrainian-to-Russian algorithms have spontaneously started translating Russia as Mordor and Russians as occupiers, and it has been describing Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov as “sad little horse”.
As we all know, Google Translate is an automated service which teaches itself how to translate, and according to Google the algorithms learned the Ukrainian vernacular a little too well.
“Google Translate is an automatic translator—it works without the intervention of human translators, using technology instead,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “But automatic translation is very difficult, as the meaning of words depends on the context in which they’re used. This means that not all translations are perfect, and there will sometimes be mistakes or mistranslations.”
In this case Google Translate may have picked up on how people were referring to Russia online, and then absorbed their slang. But it is also possible that this bug is the result of a concerted effort to break the algorithm.
I don’t know how many people know this, but you can suggest alternate translations to Google Translate. It is not out of the question that a few thousand Ukrainians could have heard of this idea on a social network and decided to participate.
Similar efforts have gotten 4Chan founder Moot named as the most influential person in 2009, after all, and in this case the Ukrainian tricksters would have the understandable motivation for targeting Russia.
Of course, this could still be an error, and it would not be the first time that Google Translate went astray. Around this time last year Google Translated started mistranslating the word gay, replacing it with queen, poof, pansy boy, and other terms. And in November Google Translate helped bring attention to the clitoris festival in the Galician town of Aes Pontes.
In any case,this latest bug has been fixed.
image by mpclemens