Google Home: Is Obama planning a coup?

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March 9, 2017 by Paul Dughi

Google obama coup

We live in interesting times right now.  The proliferation of junk on-line is at an astounding level and the truth is often lost in the murk of content.  There’s never been a more important time to separate fact from fiction and even the world’s largest internet companies are having trouble doing that.

Here’s what led Google and Google Home to tell people former President Obama was planning a coup d’etat in the United States.

It had to do with Google snippets.  Instead of just linking to relevant articles, Google snippets call out popular search answers.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t always pull verified facts, but rather an algorithmic compilation using data tables and highly ranked sites.  So that led to this:

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To further muck up the waters, Google Home, when asked if Obama was planning a coup, pulls up the snippet and repeats it.  The video is from Rory Cellan-Jones, a reporter for the BBC.  Listen and tell me that doesn’t sound like it’s reporting something as fact.

Google recognized the issue and when it saw this play out on social media, it changed things around.  Now when you Google “Is Obama planning a coup?” you get links to articles like this one.

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“Fact quality will vary across results based on page content, and we are continually enhancing the relevance and accuracy of the facts we identify and display.” – Google Research Blog (2014)

The Outline details many more interesting Google snippets – some funny, some troubling.

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