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How to confuse Google Translate by simply adding a newline?

08 Nov

When you have the most popular and successful computer-based translation service in the world used by millions of people everyday, it’s inevitable that very interesting cases will be discovered. Let’s take the following question:

  • Can simply adding a “newline” character change the translation of a word?

This sounds weird, because for a human being, the obvious reaction would be:

  • What does that even mean? Probably you’ve accidentally hit ENTER or something, and that can’t possibly affect the meaning of a word, why do you even ask that?

Well, if the translation system in question based on statistical natural language processing and neural network algorithms such as deep learning, then things get a little more complex. Let’s first look at a sentence without any superfluous newline inserted:

and now, let’s hit ENTER right after the Dutch word “afzetzone”, to see the translation change magically:

The point here is not if the word “afzetzone” is translated correctly, but rather, how come its translation changes by simply adding one more “white space” after the word.

If you’re a lay person, you’ll probably be baffled by this example, and if you’re an NLP expert, specializing in deep learning techniques, you’ll probably scratch your head and then smile, and if you’re one of the scientists or engineers actually working on the Google Translate software’s debugging, well, then you might give a different reaction. 😉

All in all, keep in mind that in today’s technological landscape, there are super complex systems behind simple interfaces, and such “glitches” barely scratch the surface of this, providing a little, and opaque glimpse into a popular Artificial Intelligence product.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2019 in Linguistics, Programlama, Science

 

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