Google has taken a step towards reducing gender bias on the Google Translate website. In the past, when a word could be translated in either a masculine or feminine form, only one translation was provided, and because Google Translate learns from existing examples of translations, biases in those samples can be transferred to Translate’s responses. That could sometimes result in words like “strong” or “doctor” leading to masculine translations while words like “nurse” or “beautiful” could produce feminine translations. Now, however, for certain languages, Translate will offer both a masculine and a feminine translation when either might be appropriate.
The feature is currently available only for a few languages, although Google plans to bring it to more languages soon.
Currently, the gender-specific translations are only available for translating single words from English to romance languages like French, Italian, Portuguese, or Spanish. Turkish to English is the only language pair that provides both translations for sentences. Google gives an example, seen above, in which typing “o bir doktor” in Turkish will turn up both “she is a doctor” and “he is a doctor.”
The feature currently only works in browsers like Chrome and Firefox, and it will eventually be available on iOS and Android. Google says it’s working to bring support for more languages as well.
Last month, Google shared that it had left gender pronouns out of its Gmail Smart Compose feature in order to ensure there was no bias in its suggestions. Company employees said they tried other solutions to prevent gender bias but nothing worked as well as removing those pronouns entirely. Both efforts are part are of a larger move on behalf of Google aimed at being more inclusive and reducing bias in machine learning.
The company said in a blog post that it plans to extend its gender-inclusive translations to more languages as well as to its iOS and Android apps, though it didn’t share a timeline on when those expansions might happen. Google added that while it’s not part of this launch, it’s also considering non-binary gender in translations as well.