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Screenshots of Tencent’s AI translator at work at the Boao Forum. (Pictures: Weibo)

Translation mistakes embarrass Tencent at high-profile meeting

Tencent used software to display real-time translation at Boao Forum attended by Xi Jinping

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

Humans may not need to worry about losing their jobs to Tencent’s software translator any time soon, after it made a less than satisfactory debut at the high-profile Boao Forum.

Known as Asia’s Davos, the Boao Forum is a gathering of government officials and business leaders from around the world. This year the keynote speech was delivered by Chinese president Xi Jinping to an audience that included Christine Lagarde and Ban Ki-moon.
During the forum, Tencent’s software displayed live translation on screens at the event itself, and also in a WeChat mini program.

But it doesn’t appear to have worked very well.

In several widely circulated screenshots on social media, the software produced meaningless results, showing scrambled characters and repetitive words, and sometimes broken Chinese.

For example, it translated the “Belt and Road” Initiative -- one of Beijing’s most prized projects -- as “a road and a waistband.” Tencent blamed the speaker for this, saying it was because they said “Road and Belt” instead, confusing the software.

Screenshots of Tencent’s AI translator at work at the Boao Forum. (Pictures: Weibo)
Tencent admitted on Weibo that their translator made mistakes, but defended it by saying the system is still learning and improving. And this video does seem to show it working well enough.

Anyone who’s used translation software knows it’s rarely 100% accurate. But by putting it at such a high-profile event, Tencent only gave the system a bigger platform to magnify the times when it did fail.

Tencent isn’t the first to try real-time translation. Microsoft has demonstrated it in Skype, and Google made it a selling point for their Pixel Buds wireless headphones.

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