Social media users in Saudi Arabia have called for a boycott of Microsoft after its Bing search engine erroneously translated Daesh, the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State (Isis), into "Saudi Arabia". Furious users in the kingdom quickly took to social media to voice their outrage over the Redmond company's mistranslation and called for a boycott of both Bing and Microsoft using the hashtag "#Microsoft_Insults_Saudi".
"As an employee of this company [Microsoft], I personally apologise to the people of great Saudi Arabia, which is a country very close to our hearts, for the unintentional error," Dr Mamdouh Najjar, vice president and national technology officer for Microsoft in Saudi Arabia, tweeted in Arabic. Microsoft has also reportedly apologised to the Saudi monarchy for the error.
Najjar told Huffington Post Arabi that the error could have been caused by Bing Translator's crowdsourcing function where if a large number of people - usually more than 1,000 people - suggest a specific translation, it is then automatically listed as the preferred possible answer.
A Microsoft spokesperson told The Register that the company's product team fixed the automated translation error "within hours of learning about it".
Najjar later posted a screengrab on Twitter showing the that the error had been fixed, tweeting in Arabic: "The fix has been implemented and this could have been caused due to many reasons that we are working to find out."
Major tech companies are constantly improving their translation software, which is usually built around phrase-based, pattern-tracking statistical machine translation (SMT), to provide quick and flawless results through machine learning and natural language processing. However, the automated translation programs have produced some inevitable, yet serious errors in the past.
In January, a Google Translate glitch translated the Ukrainian word for "Russian Federation" into "Mordor" - the fictional, evil land of the shadows from J R R Tolkien's Lord of the Rings - in Russian. While the word for "Russians" translated to "okkupanty" (occupiers), the last name for Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov appeared as "grustnaya loshadka" which means "sad little horse".
"When Google Translate generates a translation, it looks for patterns in hundreds of millions of documents to help decide the best translation," Google said in a statement to the Guardian at the time. "Automatic translation is very difficult, as the meaning of words depends on the context in which they're used. This means that not all translations are perfect, and there will sometimes be mistakes or mistranslations."
In November 2015, a culinary festival in the Galician town of As Pontes, Spain, celebrating its staple leafy green vegetable, rapini, or "grelo", was accidentally advertised online as a "clitoris festival", thanks to a Google Translate error.
Last year, Microsoft's real-time voice and text translator service Skype Translator accidentally turned simple Mandarin translations into a string of English swear words.