Mar 17

Dear Google, your algorithm went walkabout

In the past couple of years Google has moved more and more openly into creating editorial content, albeit material assembled by computers and not by people. One algorithm experiment in this line reveals a terrible muddle about truth.

The version of machine-created material most often seen in a Google search is the box which flips up on the right hand side of a screen to summarise what Google knows about the main subject of a search. I asked Google for the nearest branch of the restaurant chain Wahaca to my home in London:

For this kind of search, such panels work just fine. I get links to Wahaca locations on the left and a summary of the things I’m most likely to want to know about Wahaca neatly laid out on the right. This is the sort of thing that search does well with what the early pioneers of online called ‘ease of do’. Exact factual information, in a split second.

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Oct 10

Since when was it an insult in the US to call someone “anti-colonial”?

“Anti-colonial” is now apparently a term of political abuse in the country born from a revolution against a colonial power.

Jamie Dettmer points out in this post how weird American political vocabulary is becoming under the strain of the mid-term campaign. Nothing is odder than the use of “anti-colonial” as a hostile description of Barack Obama. America has behaved like an imperial power for years, certainly, but few Americans are prepared to admit any similarity other empires in history and “anti-colonial” isn’t a remotely plausible explanation of Obama’s actions and policies.

There’s no sign in this backgrounder from the Atlantic Wire that anyone bandying the word around is aware of the irony.