You may remember last year we posted a blog entitled “Does Google Translate have a Sexism Problem?“, in which we discussed the finding that Google Translate was injecting gendered stereotypes into English translations when the original text had no such stereotypes. The most prominent example was with Turkish to English, when the gender-neutral pronoun ‘o’ was translated into English as ‘he’ or ‘she’ in a manner that seemed to reflect sexist assumptions: ‘she is a cook’, ‘he is an engineer’, ‘she is a nurse’ ‘he is a doctor’.

Google Translate has now responded to the controversy and addressed how they are tackling the issue. Recently, head of Google Translate, Macduff Hughes, told The Verge “machine learning services and products reflect the biases of the data they’re trained on, which reflects societal biases, which reinforce and perhaps even amplifies those biases. We want, as a company, to be a leader in addressing those problems, and we know that Translate is a service that has this problem, particularly when it comes to male/female bias.”

As a response, Google Translate has now introduced gender specific translations in an effort to reduce gender bias in translations. Instead of showing one gendered (and often stereotypical) translation for words that could have a feminine or masculine form, now google translate will show both feminine and masculine translations for words in some languages. 

Currently, these gender-specific translations are only available when translating single words from English into Romance languages like French, Italian, Portuguese or Spanish. Turkish to English is the only language pair that currently allows full sentence translations with both male and female pronouns. Now instead of “o bir doktor” (which is gender neutral in Turkish) bringing up ‘he is a doctor’, it now brings up both ‘he’ and ‘she’ is a doctor.

This is a small victory for machine translations, but there is still a long way to go in tackling learned bias in machine translation. 

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