Microsoft lost in translation

Microsoft is facing the wrath of Saudi Arabia Internet users for a wrong translation. Social media users from Saudi Arabia were furious when they noticed that Bing, Microsoft’s web search engine, suggested that Daesh, the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, translates to “Saudi Arabia” in English.

Microsoft was quick to apologize for the mistake with its vice president for Saudi Arabia, Dr. Mamdouh Najjar, stating that “as an employee of [Microsoft], I apologize personally to the great Saudi people and this country, dear to all our hearts, for this unintentional mistake.”

Despite the apology, many Saudi users were calling for a boycott of Microsoft services and have used Twitter to voice their disappointment and disapproval of the incident. Some users even shared the video of Bing’s suggestion and accused Microsoft of being racist.

Triage

So what happened? How could a big software company such as Microsoft commit such a mistake?

According to Najjar, the root of the problem is crowdsourcing. Bing translate uses information contributed by various users. If a large group of people, about 1,000 or more, suggests a translation, then Bing  lists the suggestions as a possible translation. Because of this, even if something is not the correct translation, it will be considered as an alternate translation because a large group has agreed that it is. Simply put, results can be manipulated if enough people agree with one alternative translation.

Though crowdsourcing is a fast way to get things done, it can also make it easier for Internet trolls to abuse the system.

One would think that Microsoft has learned its lesson given how its artificial intelligence teenage chat bot, Tay, turned racist in less than a day before it was shut down. Tay turned into a sex bot that hates humans, but it seems the software giant still has a lot more things to learn about how the human brain works.

If given the chance, it seems people are more likely to test how far they can test the system, instead of using the system for good. Microsoft has fixed the issue and is looking into how to avoid such incidents from occurring again.

This is not the first time services have mucked translations. Earlier this year, Google translated “Russian Federation” to “Mordor,” the fictional resting place of the one ring in “The Lord of the Rings.”

Photo credit: Pixabay

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