Hong Kong social media lit up yesterday when protesters noticed that Google’s translation software was briefly churning out a rather odd suggestion during a week that has seen the worst political violence to hit the territory in decades.
Eagle-eyed Google users discovered that when people entered the phrase “I am sad to see Hong Kong become part of China” the suggested translation in simplified and traditional Chinese converted the word “sad” to “happy.”
“Oh my god, I can’t believe my eyes,” one Facebook user commented under one of the many screen grabs of the false translation that went viral.
“The app intentionally mistranslates the English to ‘so happy/content’ instead of ‘so sad,’” student Rachel Wong said on Twitter. “I hope Google fixes this.”
When reporters entered the sentence “I am sad to see Hong Kong become part of China” yesterday morning, it did show the wrong translation, replacing “sad” with “happy.”
Searches involving some other combinations of countries or territories also reproduced the error.
An hour later, a correct translation was showing.
The company’s hugely popular software tool uses complex algorithms and deep learning, but also allows users to make suggested translations to improve accuracy.
“Google Translate is an automatic translator, using patterns from millions of existing translations to help decide on the best translation for you,” a Google spokesman said. “These automatic systems can sometimes make unintentional mistakes like translating a negative to a positive.”
Hong Kong has been rocked this week by political violence as protesters opposed to a proposed China extradition bill clashed with police.
On Thursday, the popular encrypted messaging app Telegram, which is being used by protesters in Hong Kong to coordinate, announced that it had suffered a major cyberattack that originated from China.
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