Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Google’s Algorithm Is Lying to You About Onions and Blaming Me for It

Tom Scocca (via Andrew Abernathy):

So when I saw the news that Google’s search result box has been giving people bogus information in its algorithmic search for the One True Answer to various questions, I thought about the onions. If Google can’t figure out whether Barack Obama is plotting a coup or not, or whether or not MSG is lethal, can it at least recognize that the lie about cooking onions is a lie?

I typed “how long does it take to caramelize onions” into Chrome. The answer was worse than I could have imagined[…]

Not only does Google, the world’s preeminent index of information, tell its users that caramelizing onions takes “about 5 minutes”—it pulls that information from an article whose entire point was to tell people exactly the opposite. A block of text from the Times that I had published as a quote, to illustrate how it was a lie, had been extracted by the algorithm as the authoritative truth on the subject.


In fact, it made the lie even worse, because Google’s automated text analysis is too dumb to recognize that “about 5 minutes” followed by “about 5 minutes longer” means 10 minutes.

See also: Google’s “One True Answer” problem.

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