Does a new trend involve goofing around with Google Translate show something silly - or sinister?
That’s what Vice wanted to know when they asked Google about something strange they had discovered: If you input random or meaningless words, the process doesn’t return gibberish back, but rather what appears to be knockoff biblical prophecy.
For example, typing the word “dog” 19 times and telling Google to translate it from Maori to English gives the following result: “Doomsday Clock is three minutes at twelve. We are experiencing characters and a dramatic developments in the world, which indicate that we are increasingly approaching the end times and Jesus’ return.”
And typing combinations of the letters “ag” repeatedly from Somali leads to references to cubits and “the Hebrew Nation.”
“This is simply a function of inputting nonsense into the system, to which nonsense is generated,” Google spokesperson Justin Burr said in a statement.
Harvard professor Andrew Rush told Vice that the results likely come from Google Translate’s “neural machine translation” system, which tries to teach itself to find corresponding words when translating one language to the other. When users feed in random letters, the machine still does its best to find some result that looks like normal English.
Another researcher, Sean Colbath, speculated that Google uses the Bible to “train” its model in the languages that often offer these results, like Maori and Hawaiian. These languages don’t have a large history body of written works with direct English translations to learn from — apart, perhaps, from missionary materials.