Microsoft has been forced into making an apology after the Bing Translator service made an awkward faux pas. Users reacted angrily to the translation of the word “Daesh” in Arabic to “Saudi Arabia” in English. This is particularly embarrassing for Microsoft because Daesh is actually a pejorative Arabic word meaning Islamic State (ISIS).
The Guardian points out that the mistake has sent a wave of controversy over social media. Users have been so angered by the problem that they have suggested boycotting Microsoft products. We think that’s a bit far, but it is surprising Bing Translator would make such a mistake.
Local VP, Dr. Mamdouh Najjar apologized for what happened an offered an explanation. As you may expect, the issue is to do with algorithms in Bing Translator. Najjar points out that these algorithms can be influenced by crowdsourced translations. Bing will only use a translation once it has been used thousands of time.
— قناة بحار (@B7_AR) August 25, 2016
Fixing the Mistake
This is well and good, meaning Bing got it wrong because users have been describing Saudi Arabia as Daesh. However, the system is definitely open to be messed with. Indeed, the threshold is low enough that it is easy for users to manipulate it if they choose.
Users wanting to use hate speech probably used Daesh-Saudi Arabia enough times to change the translation algorithms.
Incidentally, Microsoft has been doubling down on online hate speech and terrorist content recently. This makes the Bing Translator mistake extra embarrassing for the company.
Microsoft said the problem was short lived and was changed within hours of it being pointed out. The company adds that it has now implemented changes that will mean these kind of mistakes will not happen.