When algorithms go wrong

Posted by on Feb 27, 2007 in Ideas, Technology, The Church | 0 comments

Amazon and Google employ complex algorithms that generally deliver, respectively, relevant book recommendations and relevant search results. Here are a couple of exceptions:

  1. book of mormonOn Amazon.com, the Doubleday version of the Book of Mormon is being advertised in tandem with a book about Freemasonry, as if they were related. (See screenshot.)
  2. If you search Google.com for the term “Jew”, you’ll see a disclaimer explaining that you may find unpleasant results. (See screenshot.)

    If you recently used Google to search for the word “Jew,” you may have seen results that were very disturbing. We assure you that the views expressed by the sites in your results are not in any way endorsed by Google…. A site’s ranking in Google’s search results is automatically determined by computer algorithms using thousands of factors to calculate a page’s relevance to a given query. Sometimes subtleties of language cause anomalies to appear that cannot be predicted.

    The page goes on to explain that “Jew” is often used in an anti-Semitic context, while Jewish organization are more likely to use the term “Jewish,” so search results for the former are generally more negative than search results for the latter. Sound familiar?

    Plenty of sites that Google considers relevant for “Mormon” are full of doctrinal inaccuracies. Google, can we get a disclaimer too?

(Hat tip to Will F. for noticing the Amazon.com issue.)

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