Google Translates ‘Russia’ As ‘Mordor,’ Thanks to Salty Ukraine

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The best thing about leaving translation up to machine-learning robots is that they’re not particularly interested in context. If, say, lots of Ukrainians are referring to Russia as a lava-filled hellscape, who are Google’s robots to dispute it?

Google Translate introduced a number of errors into its Ukrainian-to-Russian process recently: According to the BBC, “Russian Federation” translated to “Mordor,” the fictional lava-filled hellscape from Lord of the Rings.

Other issues including changing “Russians” to “occupiers,” and translating the last name of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as “sad little horse.” Users began sharing the mistakes (?) on VK, Russia’s version of Facebook.

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Photo: VK/Vadim Nakhankov

The issue has now been fixed, but Google told the BBC that the errors were caused by computer error, not human. Translate’s programming looks for language patterns across large swaths of text. In this case, likely exacerbated by the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ukrainian references to Russia have been none too kind.