Crash-and-burn horror today at TranslationGuy Translation Tool Torture Test Track, when the Google Translate iPhone app erupted into a ball of “translate fail” on its way to the pit stop.
Google’s new app promises to bring Google Translate convenience to the iPhone, translating 57 languages by text input and 15 with voice. Voice output of translations is available in 23 languages. The interface is so simple even a Google Search engine user can operate it. Select the language pair, press the microphone button and speak. To actually use it in a “conversation,” it works best if you hit the “play” button on the app and then hand if off to your listener. That way they both hear and see, which improves the chances that they might actually get the translation. Because they might not, as we learned, to our shock, in critical early-stage testing at the test track.
I’m speaking with the Chief Torture Track Scientist, TranslationGuy. “Can you tell us what happened out there today, professor?”
“We had to call an immediate halt to the trial. We had a red flag on the first lap, safety alert, and once the red flag is up, that means everyone off the ice. It was quickly evident that Google Translate was an accident waiting to happen.”
Researchers started off Japanese to English, “because we are the torture track, after all.” As testing began, a sense of urgency was palpable among the researchers. The test began as all do, with the single most important phrase for anyone trying to get around in a foreign language: “Where is the bathroom?” The translation provided by Google was, “kokode, basurumudesu,” which actually means something like “the bathroom is here.” This Google Translate then read off in some robot girl Japanese voice.
Later review of track-cam time-lapse showed the first wisps of smoke beginning to stream from under the machine translation output. The Japanese response originally, “This is not a bathroom. Please don’t do that here,” was translated by Google as, “The bathrooms here are not here Do not.”
The tension was building on the track. Everyone knew something was wrong. Later, witnesses told me that they were all thinking the same thing… this was beginning to look like a translation party situation. The tester, wiping his handkerchief across his forehead, persisted. “I understand. Where is the bathroom?” he typed. Google’s rendition into Japanese: “Right here I understood to be a bus.” Which, in a sense, it was, at least for this particular torture test, which had just reached the end of the communication line. Now from the loudspeakers throughout the facility, the tinny voice of TranslationGuy, “Mission Abort. I am in control!”
Later, in a private interview with the chief scientist, he confided, “At that point, we had to pull the plug. The situation was getting out of control, and we were concerned for the chief tester. He really had to go. There could have been an accident. That tool was getting dangerous. It was a tough call, but I had to do it.”
I had just one question. “Chief, why didn’t you use the dictionary phrase Google Translate provided on the first screen below that crazy MT output? You would have avoided all those problems in the first place.”
The chief pushed up his glasses and reached for my iPhone. “I’ll be damned. Wonder how we missed that.” Suddenly, his look of bewilderment was replaced by one of steely determination. “Wait a minute. Not my fault. It’s a user error. That makes it an interface issue. Google did it. Or Steve Jobs. This has his fingerprints all over it. Take it from me, Google Translate is an accident waiting to happen, at least when it falls into the wrong hands. We proved that yesterday.”
There you have it, ladies and gentleman. Use with caution when it comes to critical phrases. MT is the standard Google engine, but the voice recognition is better than ever. Really amazing, really.