back to article How Google's black box Knowledge Graph can kill you

When Knowledge Graph – Google's apparently authoritative box to the side of the search results – sneezes, the world catches a factoid flu. This was vividly dramatised with a recent NYT article where writer Rachel Abrams found she had "died" four years ago – according to the Infobox. She then tried to convince Google she was …

  1. Semtex451 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    What's new?

    The gullible will believe what they are told without question, just as they have since the dawn of time.

    This issue is not new, formerly if it was printed in black and white it was fact, when it wasn't always and still isn't. The 'fact' that the information contained in the internet is less reliable, even than the printed word, ought to be abundantly obvious to everyone using it.

    Of course everyone should act like a typical El Reg reader and trust nothing, ever. (citation needed)

    1. JN

      Re: What's new?

      "This issue is not new, formerly if it was printed in black and white it was fact, when it wasn't always and still isn't."

      This is true, but when in the past was there ever a book or newspaper with the instant, daily global reach of Google/Wikipedia (and all those who automatically copy their info from them)?

      I mean, Facebook is "not new" either. People have always talked to their friends and family, and sometimes told each other "fake news". But we're learning the hard way that if you put a global near-monopoly and artificial intelligence tools together, you end up with a different sort of beast altogether.

    2. MonkeyCee Silver badge

      Re: What's new?

      "Of course everyone should act like a typical El Reg reader and trust nothing, ever."

      "This issue is not new, formerly if it was printed in black and white it was fact,"

      What I learnt in history (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) was that *any* source of data was suspect. Even if the author has clear motivations and they don't appear to conflict with what data you seek, you need multiple sources for anything to be sure. Then you've got the issue that sometimes those multiple sources turn out to have a single root source, and that itself is unverifiable. Those who write the history books and all that.

      Then there's the "publishing with intent" or just publishing. Nothing gets written and disseminated without a damn good reason. Thus you've not only got to worry about the literal content of a piece, but by what conclusions (or bias reinforcement) the article is attempting to provoke. In the days of yore it was referred to as reading between the lines, these days it's probably something more newspeak. Triggered, trolling, dog whistling etc.

      So it's not just the "what" in a person's statement, but the "why did they bother to write this". What motivates a person, and perhaps what motivates someone to pay someone else to advance their views. In much the same way that two newspapers with opposing views can report the exact same event, using the same verifiable facts, and advance completely different narratives. Note that no lying or "fake news" is involved here, you just present (and avoid mentioning) certain facts, and your audience should reach their own conclusion. They will be then more attached to the conclusion, since it wasn't presented as one.

      Then there's always the difference between what was said in a meeting versus the minutes of said meeting. One of those is a formal record, and may only bear a passing resemblance to what actually happened, but what may have been an extremely contentious discussion can be made to sound unanimous.

    3. strum Silver badge

      Re: What's new?

      >This issue is not new, formerly if it was printed in black and white it was fact, when it wasn't always and still isn't.

      The difference is that a book sat on the shelf and could be referred to by other books. If it was wrong, other books could correct it.

      Now, however, a factoid might appear on the 'Net one day and disappear next day. Meanwhile, it has been picked up by fact-bots and propagated around the world, for many months (or forever). It can be the devil's own job to correct such a factoid.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What's new?

      Yes indeed. In other words, your version of the truth different to everyone else's.

      And yours may or not actually be right.

      Just because you think it, doesn't make it right.

      Try persuading people of that :/ (especially motorists!)

  2. Teiwaz Silver badge

    The gullible will believe what they are told without question, just as they have since the dawn of time.

    People unfortunately aren't diligent fact checkers. They'll believe bad news more readily than good easily and often with more relish. 'So and so told me' is generally considered good enough evidence...

    I think perhaps the most important problem is that we are trying to understand the fundamental workings of the universe via a language devised for telling one another when the best fruit is."

    - Terry Pratchett

    1. Semtex451 Silver badge
      Pint

      People unfortunately aren't diligent fact checkers

      Precisely.

      The problem is always 'People unfortunately (insert failing)' and so long as this is the case we can only hope to educate these People both not to trust, and not to upload crap.

      Good luck to anyone attempting to hold back that internet tide of human excrement.

      Icon: A toast to Terry Pratchett

      1. Daggerchild Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: People unfortunately aren't diligent fact checkers

        Honestly, I think the Next Great Wave of Technology will revolve around trying to stop us stabbing ourselves with the previous Great Wave.

        There are people out there, right now, splicing up CRISPR sequences and stabbing themselves with it. I can only imagine how CRISPR's inventor feels looking at these idiots.

        1. Long John Brass Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Re: People unfortunately aren't diligent fact checkers

          There are people out there, right now, splicing up CRISPR sequences and stabbing themselves with it. I can only imagine how CRISPR's inventor feels looking at these idiots.

          Hey I glow in the dark now and have gills! You are going to be laughing out the other side of your face real soon now (tm) ... Literally :)

          Once I figure out how to add Photosynthesis; I will rule the world *Bwahahaha*

          1. Captain DaFt

            Re: People unfortunately aren't diligent fact checkers

            Once I figure out how to add Photosynthesis; I will rule the world *Bwahahaha*

            Pfft, amateur.

            Nuclear radiation powered metabolism is where it's at!

            1. 's water music Silver badge

              Re: People unfortunately aren't diligent fact checkers

              Pfft, amateur.

              Nuclear radiation powered metabolism is where it's at!

              Isn't that what photosynthesis is?

              1. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

                Re: People unfortunately aren't diligent fact checkers

                Pfft, amateur.

                Nuclear radiation powered metabolism is where it's at!

                > Isn't that what photosynthesis is?

                Like I've said before: when someone advocates using solar energy, tell them it is the emissions of an unshielded fusion reactor.

                1. Jonathan Richards 1
                  Alert

                  Re: People unfortunately aren't diligent fact checkers

                  > an unshielded fusion reactor

                  Yeah, except that it is sort of shielded. As long as we've got an ozone layer...

      2. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: People unfortunately aren't diligent fact checkers

        "The problem is always 'People unfortunately (insert failing)' and so long as this is the case we can only hope to educate these People both not to trust, and not to upload crap."

        But as a comedian once said, "You can't fix Stupid." Worse, stupid can take everyone else with them. Unless you want to get ugly, there's no real solution to the problem.

  3. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

    First Law of Magic

    "People believe something to be true either because they want to be true or because they are afraid it might be true." Toss in A. C. Clarke's "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" and here we are.

  4. Daggerchild Silver badge

    How standards change:

    Google: Well what you're looking for is impossible for a machine to get right all the time, but this is its best guess.

    Public (past): Cool, thanks, we acknowledge it's limits (I mean, it *is* only a computer, duh!), but it should help most of the time.

    Public (present): This article.

    Google needs a tickbox for people to opt out of 'just trying to help'-grade features, and for people who are just looking for any excuse to hate Google.

  5. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Windows

    You know that Pearl Harbor was a total surprise attack, right?

    Nick Carr raises the biggest issue: "Is it OK to run an AI when you know that it will spread falsehoods to the public – and on a massive scale? Is it OK to treat truth as collateral damage in the supposed march of progress?"

    I don't know, but why should anyone care in a world where the NYT exists and is read by les thought-leaders bienpensants while CNN exists and is watched by les rubes bienpensants?

  6. AbortRetryFail
  7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Google is a mere beginner at confusing people. Genealogists have been at it for centuries resulting in people allegedly becoming parents after they'd died - and probably before they were born as well. It's not easy matching names to construct profiles of people. Perhaps they should have tried it out on historical data first and then rolled it out slowly - and stopped when they discovered what a pig's ear they were making.

    1. tiggity Silver badge

      @ Doctor Syntax

      All genealogy is a bit suspect unless there's DNA samples.

      You can be reasonably sure of the mothers identity in most cases (though plenty of rumours of replacement royal babies being smuggled in by servants as baby died, and at your everyday level, to "save the reputation" of many a young girl, she would go away for a while and give birth "in secret" and someone else (typically an older married relative) would bring up teh child as theirs)

      But the father, lets just say "straying" is not unknown.

    2. Jonathan Richards 1
      Stop

      Amen, Brother [1]

      > Genealogists have been at it for centuries...

      Let's name names here [snerk]. Ancestry.com is full of user-generated "family trees" with egregious, ridiculous, totally fruitloop genealogies, which replicate themselves in exactly the way xkcd 'Citogenesis' illustrates. People who think they care about their genealogy, but clearly don't, find a marriage record for, say, Mary Smith and Robert Roberts, and think "Ooo, that must be my great-granny". In she goes, and the next time someone searches for Robert Roberts, Ancestry dishes this relationship up as a fact! And at the top of the search results! I rarely rely on user trees, don't consider undocumented relationships, and check the documents when they are cited. I'm clearly not having as much fun as some people...

      [1] This is metaphorical brotherhood. I have no Syntaxes amongst the relations I have found so far.

  8. DCFusor Silver badge

    Duh

    "Is it OK to treat truth as collateral damage in the supposed march of progress?"

    Ask any politician and don't get partisan on me - it's not like one of the two false dichotomy sides is pure.

    Just different spin on the same lies.

    Mencken:

    Elections are an advance sale on stolen goods.

    "Those other people will pay for it - I'll pick their pockets to give you stuff."

    Thing is, you're always those other people. Because we're all in this together, like it or not.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tin-foil hat time

    Perhaps this is deliberate. The response of the Chocolate Factory and the other scumbags is to insist that they are able to access the unique identifiers that the government creeps have on everyone - or to start supplying the government creeps the unique identifiers.

  10. Baldrickk Silver badge

    Interestingly enough, the few times I have used "OK google ..." to look up something on my phone, it has replied:

    "According to wikipedia..."

  11. cambsukguy

    But, what should we believe?

    So, I am at work and someone discusses Chris Froome...

    "What I don't understand is, how can he win the Tour de France and have Asthma?".

    "Well, presumably, it is reasonably mild and the Salbutamol returns his lungs to full function. Perhaps that drug is capable of boosting your lungs above normal capacity, hence its presence on the 'banned' substances list".

    "Yeah, but my daughter has Asthma and she couldn't do that".

    (face aghast) "But surely you don't equate that anecdotal 'evidence', akin to 'My Gran smoked until she died at 90 and she didn't have Cancer, so...', with this case?".

    "Well, it just seems so unlikely".

    "So, if he was seeing a doctor since he was 8 and can prove he took medication all his life?".

    "Says who?".

    "The BBC in this case."

    "Well, I don't trust the BBC".

    "Who do you trust?".

    "No-one".

    "So, if you didn't see it with your own eyes or hear it from your closest relative or believe something in the first place, you don't believe something someone else says?".

    "Basically, yes".

    There is no point discussing anything much further with anyone that takes that view (which the person concerned retracted after more discussion because it is effectively untenable).

    This was a grown man and is not isolated - a different colleague suggested that part of the drive to work was great "Because there are no speed limits". Multiple people assured him that there were and that perhaps he meant no enforcement. "No, you can drive as fast as you want". And, so the argument proceeded until we gave up because his view was, No enforcement, no limit.

    I think the general trend to not believe anything and to allow 'equal' views from all sides is akin to the "We don't believe in Science in our family" trend that somehow allows people who are either stupid or insane to carry on in their belief despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    There are facts, incontrovertible facts, plain truths and opinions.

    So, when the BBC give equal time to a Climate Change denier, effectively suggesting his (a politician's) view has the same weight as the (massive) majority of scientists that have studied the science then they are doing us a disservice, even if they say it is an opinion.

    This is why the US has states that give equal time to Intelligent Design in schools against Evolution.

    We are truly further than ever from the Enlightenment, started only a few centuries earlier and which really, really ought to have happened by now.

    Bigly Sad!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Every respondent in this thread has the attitude

    "My opinion is right, anyone who thinks differently is wrong."

    The biggest problem with the internet is that it allows everyone with the same views to organise into ever larger, self re-enforcing cliques that are intolerant to any other points of view.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019