Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"Good morning" : you're under arrest

Artificial intelligence and human intelligence seemed to have gone awry in close harmony after a Palestinian was questioned by Israeli police for posting "good morning" under a Facebook picture of himself next to a bulldozer. Facebook's AI translator allegedly screwed the pooch by translating "good morning" as "hurt them" or "attack them." Why do I suspect that this screw-up would never beset an Israeli?
In an apparent rewrite of the Independent, The Guardian's version read, in part, like this:
The man, a construction worker in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit, near Jerusalem, posted a picture of himself leaning against a bulldozer with the caption “يصبحهم”, or “yusbihuhum”, which translates as “good morning”.
But Facebook’s artificial intelligence-powered translation service, which it built after parting ways with Microsoft’s Bing translation in 2016, instead translated the word into “hurt them” in English or “attack them” in Hebrew.
Police officers arrested the man later that day, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, after they were notified of the post. They questioned him for several hours, suspicious he was planning to use the pictured bulldozer in a vehicle attack, before realising their mistake. At no point before his arrest did any Arabic-speaking officer read the actual post [boldface added].
Police work used to include a decent capacity to check facts. If you don't check the facts, people get deprived/marginalized/killed -- which is even more telling in Israel's version of de facto apartheid.

PS. And, oh, by the bye....
Israeli MPs will this week consider two initiatives that critics say are aimed at shutting down one of the country’s most high-profile anti-occupation groups, Breaking the Silence, which records the testimonies of Israeli soldiers operating in Palestinian territories....
Breaking the Silence collects and publishes accounts of the actions of Israeli soldiers, in their own words, both in combat and in the day-to-day business of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories....
[Tourism Minister Yariv] Levin has said the election in the US of Donald Trump, whose administration has rarely criticised the Netanyahu government, has made the proposed legislation easier to promote.
“It wouldn’t have made it through in the period of the Obama administration,” Levin claimed this year. “They were very uneasy about the bill. The present administration has no problem with it.”

2 comments:

  1. I thought it was well understood that computer translation programs aren’t to be trusted.

    While I was in graduate school studying computer science, I heard a story about some dumbass mayor who forced the school system he had charge off to eliminate the official school translator positions. (Yes, he was a Republican.) In response each school had to find another way. One school adopted a respectable computer program. The reviews said it had 80-85% accuracy. When I heard this I laughed. I should have written to the NY Times.

    Weeks later the principal and the assistance principal who bought the program were in big trouble with the parent association and the district superintendent. The letter was supposed to say that the student was failing such and such subject(s) and if significant improvement didn’t occur the student would either have to attend summer school or repeat the grade. The gist of the translated letter was that the student was a hopeless failure and no amount of sumer school or grade repetition would help. I learned that It all revolved around the nuance of the use of the word “failed” vs using an expression like “... did not meet the requirements to pass” in the translated culture. The program completely mangled the required remediation.

    I do trust that one day computers will be powerful enough and algorithms and heuristics developed by translators, linguists, and programmers accurate enough to enable most to forego paying for translation services. Clearly nearly two decades later we aren’t there yet.

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