Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Doomsday translation

In my Latin and Greek classes, I always warn my students to avoid Google Translate.

It's not that it's a bad tool, honestly, as long as you don't push it too far.  If you want to look up a single word -- i.e., use it like an online dictionary -- it's pretty solid.  The problem is, it has a good word-by-word translation ability, but a lousy capacity for understanding grammar, especially with highly inflected languages like Latin.  For example, the phrase "corvus oculum corvi non eruit" -- "a crow will not pluck out another crow's eye," meaning more or less the same thing as "there's honor among thieves" -- gets translated as "do not put out the eye of the raven, raven."  Even worse is Juno's badass line from The Aeneid -- "Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo" ("If I cannot bend the will of heaven, I will raise hell") -- comes out "Could be bent if you cannot bend, hell, I will move."

Which I think we can all agree doesn't quite have the same ring.

But today I found out, over at the site Mysterious Universe, that there's another reason to avoid Google Translate:

It's been infiltrated by the Powers of Darkness.

At least that's how I interpret it.  Some users of Reddit (where else?) discovered that if you typed the word "dog" into Google Translate twenty times and have it translate from Hawaiian to English, it gave you the following message:
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’s return.
Within hours of the message being reported on Reddit, it had vanished, which of course only made people wiggle their eyebrows in a significant fashion.

Which brings up a few questions.
  1. Who thought of putting "dog" in twenty times and then translating it from Hawaiian?  It's kind of a random thing to do.  Of course, Redditors seem to have a lot of free time, so I guess at least that much makes sense.  But you have to wonder how many failed attempts they had.  ("Okay, I put in 'weasel' fifteen times and translated it from Lithuanian, but it didn't work.  Then I put in 'warthog' seventy-eight times, and translated it from Urdu.  No luck there either.  The search continues.")
  2. Even if it's a valid message, what did it tell us that we didn't already know?  It's not like we didn't all just watch Donald Trump wink at Vladimir Putin and then commit high treason in full view on television, or witness all of the Republicans respond by issuing a stern rebuke ("Bad Donald!  Naughty Donald!  If you do that again, we'll have to roll over on our backs and piss all over our own bellies!  That will sure show you!")  So we're definitely not hurting for dramatic developments, with or without the message.
  3. Even if the message was real, isn't it far more likely that it's the result of some bored programmers over at Google sticking an Easter egg into the code than it is some kind of message from the Illuminati?
  4. Don't you think the fact that it vanished after being reported is because the aforementioned bored programmers' supervisor ordered that it be taken down, not because the Illuminati found out we're on to them?  I see it more like how the Walmart supervisors dealt with Shane:

So I'm not all that inclined to take it seriously.  Brett Tingley at Mysterious Universe, however, isn't so sure:
As always though, it’s an interesting thought to think that Google’s vast AI networks might be trying to warn us, finding obscure places to hide these warnings where their human overlords won’t find them.  When AI becomes self-aware and starts taking over, will we even know it before it’s too late, or will odd and seemingly meaningless stories like this serve as prescient warnings for those who know where to look?
Somehow, I think if AI, or anyone else, were trying to warn us of impending doom, they wouldn't put it online and wait for Steve Neckbeard to find it by asking Google to translate "dog dog dog dog dog" from Hawaiian.

So that's our trip into the surreal for today.  I still think it's a prank, although a fairly inspired one.  Note that I'm not saying the overall message is incorrect, though.  Considering this week's news, I figure one morning soon I'll get up and find out that the US has been renamed the "Amerikan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republik," and the Republican Congresspersons responded by tweeting that they're "disappointed" and then widdling all over the floor.

At that point, I think I'd be in favor of offering the presidency to Shane.


This week's Skeptophilia book recommendation is a must-read for anyone concerned about the current state of the world's environment.  The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert, is a retrospective of the five great extinction events the Earth has experienced -- the largest of which, the Permian-Triassic extinction of 252 million years ago, wiped out 95% of the species on Earth.  Kolbert makes a persuasive, if devastating, argument; that we are currently in the middle of a sixth mass extinction -- this one caused exclusively by the activities of humans.  It's a fascinating, alarming, and absolutely essential read.  [If you purchase the book from Amazon using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to supporting Skeptophilia!]

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