Up until September last year, Google Translate used phrase-based translation. It basically did the same thing you do when you look up key words and phrases in your Lonely Planet language guide. It’s effective enough, and blisteringly fast compared to thumbing your way awkwardly through a bunch of pages looking for the French equivalent of “please bring me all of your cheese and don’t stop until I fall over”, but it lacks nuance.
And then in September Google gave their translation tool a new engine: the Google Neural Machine Translation system (GNMT). The new engine comes fully loaded with all the hot 2016 buzzwords, like neural network and machine learning. The short version is that Google Translate got smart. It developed the ability to learn from the people who used it. It learnt how to make educated guesses about the content, tone and meaning of phrases based on the context of other words and phrases around them. And — here’s the bit that should make your brain explode — it got creative.