Skype Translator swears in Chinese
Photographer Tom Carter, who starred in the Skype Translator ad, reveals that the service still has some unfortunate glitchesSkype

Skype Translator, the real-time voice and text translation offering launched by Microsoft in January, is unintentionally adding swear words to Chinese translations.

The service is powered by the Microsoft Translator and enables users to have video calls or instant message conversations with someone speaking a different language to you.

Currently 50 languages can be translated for the instant messaging chat function, but voice translation is only possible for English, Italian, Mandarin, Spanish and French.

Tom Carter, a photographer who was asked to star in a cross-lingual TV commercial for Skype in China, wrote in the Global Times that when he was filmed logging into Skype to talk to a Chinese location scout, his words were massively lost in translation.

"A glitch in the beta software misinterpreted the words I spoke. "It's nice to talk to you" was translated as "It's f*cking nice to f*ck you," and other synthesised profanity, like the icebox robot in 1970's sci-fi flick Logan's Run, but with Tourette's Syndrome," Carter wrote.

"It was quite funny to me – I couldn't help but laugh during repeated takes, to Yan's exasperation – but the tech team were none too happy about it as they worked late into the night."

Difficulties in translating character-based languages

Carter blamed the odd translation glitches on China's restrictive "Great Firewall", but is that really why?

As character-based languages like Chinese, Japanese and Korean are completely different from Latin-based languages, accurate translations are very difficult, and even harder for a computer to get right, no matter how powerful a neural network it has.

YouTube's subtitles are currently mostly gibberish, Google Translate offers multiple options in Chinese for a phrase that might have only one way of saying it in English, and IBM Watson is currently being trained to think and speak in Japanese by Softbank researchers so that it can one day power the singing and dancing social robot Pepper.

"Skype Translator is still in preview; please be patient, if you experience any mistranslations, repeat the sentence again to see if you receive a better quality translation," a Skype spokesperson told IBTimes UK.

"Skype Translator offers profanity filters, we encourage users to go to their settings and set the filter to their preference. Additionally, in order to optimise for the best experience and most accurate translations, ensure that you are using a headset and there is minimal background noise."

Skype is not greatly concerned about the profanity problem, as after all, its service is still in beta.

The spokesperson added: "Skype Translator uses machine learning; the more the technology is used, the smarter and more accurate the translations become."