Last month, Google Translate received the Google Material Theme on the web along with a responsive design. In line with other company-wide efforts to “promote fairness and reduce bias in machine learning,” Google Translate will now provide feminine and masculine translations for some gender-neutral words.
A quarter of the world’s languages, including Spanish, have grammatical gender where “the division of noun classes forms an agreement system with another aspect of the language, such as adjectives, articles, pronouns, or verbs.”
In the past, Google would only provide one translation for a query, disregarding if there was a feminine or masculine form. The end result was the replication and continuation of gender biases, with the former being associated with words like “nurse” and “beautiful,” while “strong” or “doctor” would skew masculine.
Google Translate is now providing translations for both forms when applicable. Underneath the translation result box, the service will note “Translations are gender specific” and provide both forms, with a link to learn more.
Now you’ll get both a feminine and masculine translation for a single word—like “surgeon”—when translating from English into French, Italian, Portuguese or Spanish. You’ll also get both translations when translating phrases and sentences from Turkish to English. For example, if you type “o bir doktor” in Turkish, you’ll now get “she is a doctor” and “he is a doctor” as the gender-specific translations.
This feature is currently live on the revamped website, with the Android and iOS apps following suit soon. It is available when translating sentences from Turkish to English, as well as single word translations from English to French, Italian, Portuguese, or Spanish.
Google plans to extend gender-specific translation to more languages. The company also wants to address gender bias in query auto-complete, as well as “address non-binary gender in translations” in the future.
Other efforts that the company is taking to reduce AI bias include updated training courses to promote AI fairness and similar changes in Gmail’s Smart Compose.