An Antares rocket built by Northrop Grumman was launched Wednesday afternoon, propelling a Cygnus spacecraft with 3.4 tons of cargo to the International Space Station. The launch from Wallops Island, Virginia, was impeccable and the spacecraft arrived at the station on Friday.
However, when the program of the NASA International Space Station published the launch video on its Facebook page on Thursday, there was a problem. Apparently, the agency's subtitling service had not yet reached this video clip, so viewers with captioned subtitles were treated not only for the glory of a rocket launch, but for the glory of the follies automatically generated by Facebook . As of Thursday morning, 86,995 people had watched the Facebook video.
Some of the subtitles are hilariously bad. For example, when the announcer triumphantly declares: "And we have the launch of the Antares NG-11 mission to the ISS", the automatically generated caption service says, "And we have the take-off of the guitarist's mission G 11 to the games of ice. "
Now, you can notice, correctly, that there is a bunch of jargon within that single statement at takeoff. After all, the announcer uses a relatively unknown rocket name, "Antares", along with the abbreviation "NG-11" for the 11th Northrop Grumman supply mission to the station, and "ISS" for the International Space Station. But YouTube's automatic caption service did not seem to have problems with those bits of slang space.
And there are more shattered phrases in the 1 minute and 20 second clip on the NASA Facebook page, something some of the commentators definitely noticed. Scott McKee advises other viewers "Play without sound and we have the launch of the Guitarist G11 mission, Rock at NASA!"
We certainly think that subtitles in videos are very useful things. Some people simply prefer written text, but the most important thing is that subtitles improve accessibility for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. But when the subtitles are so bad, they are essentially useless (or, worse, ridicule a serious scientific effort).
As Facebook aims to bring its own rival to Alexa in the AI voice badistants market, maybe the company should start by improving its lousy auto-subtitle robots.
Image of listing by NASA