News Update : Toko Online Messaging App Error

Toko Online messaging app WeChat has reportedly apologised after an AI error resulted in it translating a neutral Toko Online phrase into the n-word.

The Toko Online error was reported by Shanghai-based theatre producer and actor Ann James, a black American. In a post on the service’s Twitter-like Moments feature, she wrote that it had translated hei laowai – a neutral phrase which literally means “black foreigner” – as the n-word.

Toko Online Messaging App Error

Toko Online

“We’re very sorry for the inappropriate translation,” a WeChat spokesperson told Chinese news site Sixth Tone. “After receiving users’ feedback, we immediately fixed the problem.”

Toko Online added that the translation engine it uses is a neural network-based service, which is always being tweaked for “more accurate, faithful, expressive, and elegant” output.

Such systems are notorious for incorporating the biases and errors of the data sources on which they are trained, which appears to be what occurred here.

In the example James provided, the offending sentence read “the nigger’s still late”. A series of similar tests from a local news site, That’s Shanghai, revealed the system is capable of providing a more accurate translation for positive sentences. “Black foreigners is cool” comes out more or less correct, while other translations used the n-word when the sentence called them “lazy” or “a thief”. In all the tests, the same Chinese phrase, hei laowai, was used.

The machine learning system may, then, have been trained on a corpus of Chinese and English text which contained racial slurs alongside stereotypical descriptions of black people.

The machine learning system may, then, have been trained on a corpus of Chinese and English text which contained racial slurs alongside stereotypical descriptions of black people.

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