Major embarrassment for Google over Arabic slip up during Pichai’s Google Translate presentation

Google has corrected the video.

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At the recently concluded Google I/O conference, a slide in the backdrop displayed a text backwards in Arabic while CEO Sundar Pichai announced the addition of 24 new languages to Google Translate.

Soon after the flub, social media was flooded with memes and comments directed at the tech giant. 

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“Congrats to Google for getting Arabic script backwards & disconnected during Sundar Pichai’s presentation on ‘Google Translate’, because small independent startups like Google can’t afford to hire anyone with a 4-year-old elementary school level knowledge of Arabic writing,” tweeted Video game developer Rami Ismail.

Soon after, Google’s PR machinery went into damage control mode.

Joyce Baz, head of PR & communications at Google, Middle East and North Africa, responded to Elie Habib’s Linkedin Post: Hi Elie, the mistake that took place at I/O was a presentation software error and not related to Google Translate or any other Google product. We apologized and immediately corrected it. Around the world, Google invests heavily in developing products from Search, to Assistant, Maps and more to be helpful to people everywhere, including Arabic speakers. Of course, there’s always more that can be done. If you’d like to know more about Google’s work in MENA, I’d be happy to invite you over to our office here in Dubai for you to meet the local team, some of whom you may know already,  who can tell you more about Google’s many products, tools and programs in Arabic.

And Arabic was not the only language Google got wrong. AI ethicist and researcher Timnit Gebru, who was fired from Google, quoted Ismail’s tweet and said: “Now imagine how people in most countries are served when it comes to YouTube, misinformation etc, and what happens if you flag some policy-violating content in any of these languages.

“At the bottom of the pile because these people and languages are not important enough to have the necessary resources. And the necessary resources will only be obtained through regulation because these companies will not voluntarily make a lot less money to make safe platforms,” she added.

A Google employee with the Twitter handle, theREALmarvin.eth, took to Twitter to admit the mistake. He tweeted, “This was a mistake across different languages, and we won’t make excuses. We feel a big sense of responsibility to make sure everyone is accurately and authentically represented.”

He added that Google has corrected the video.

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Pritam Bordoloi
I have a keen interest in creative writing and artificial intelligence. As a journalist, I deep dive into the world of technology and analyse how it’s restructuring business models and reshaping society.

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