Google touts new AI to combat misinformation
Google is rolling out a new artificial intelligence tool that could help prevent misleading information from appearing in people’s news feeds on searches. In a recent post, Google’s VP of Search Pandu Nayak said they were improving the on-page answers at the top of some Google searches. These featured snippets attempt to answer questions on the results page without the user needing to view the source page. But, as pointed out by Gizmodo, these featured snippets have been a hot spot for misleading information for years.
Kyle Barr, reporting for Gizmodo, uses the example of typing in “can I remove a tick with my teeth?” in a Google search. You’ll first see advice from the Centers for Disease Control to “pull upward with steady, even pressure.” However, the CDC is referring to using first aid tools like tweezers rather than your mouth, but Google snippet doesn’t provide the full context.
To reduce misinformation, Google is launching a new AI model, Multitask Unified Model (MUM). According to their blog, their systems can now understand the notion of consensus — when multiple high-authority sources on the web agree on the same fact. They claim that algorithms can now check words called out above the featured snippet against other high-quality web sources to see if there’s a consensus, even if the sources use different words or concepts to describe the same answer.
A recent survey from Poynter shows that 62% of people believe they encounter misinformation online every week. As Google is the largest online portal for information, these statistics reflect a growing distrust in its results. While it sounds promising, only time will tell if this new AI technology is powerful enough to replace good old-fashioned personal fact-checking or restore faith in the accuracy of information online.
In other news
- Why Google shut down a critical data center during recent London heatwave. On July 19, one of Google’s largest data centers in the UK went offline when temperatures topped 104 F. According to TechRadar, the shutdown was a tactical decision following the failure of multiple redundant cooling systems during the record-high heat. The shutdown lasted 18 hours and 23 minutes, impacting many Google services such as Google Cloud Storage, Google Compute Engine, and Persistent Disk. Google has committed to preventing such an incident from ever affecting its services again. This includes repairing and re-testing its failover automation so that it has stronger resilience during times of extreme heat.
- Gorillas in a US zoo create a new special call for attention. Researchers at the University of Georgia have discovered gorillas at Zoo Atlanta using a new kind of vocalization to get the attention of zookeepers when they’re hungry. According to Gizmodo, the vocalization is a cross between a cough and a sneeze. Researchers have started referring to it as a “snough.” The head of the study, biological anthropologist Roberta Salmi, has studied gorillas in the wild and had not heard such a sound before. Salmi speculates that the gorillas use the snough specifically because it’s a sound related to health, and sounds like coughs and sneezes will always get the attention of a zookeeper. Much like how cats mainly meow to communicate with humans, the gorillas only snough for humans and not with each other.
- Amazon expanding palm print payment system. Amazon, which owns the grocery chain Whole Foods, intends to install its “Amazon One” biometric payment system in 65 of its grocery stores in California, as reported by Gizmodo. Amazon One connects a customer’s palm print to their credit card. Before this expansion, the palm print payment system existed only in a handful of Whole Foods and Amazon Go stores (and Amazon Books before they closed). Privacy advocates expressed concern that this technology could soon be used not only as a convenient payment system but could be expanded to workplace identification, concert tickets, and other identification systems. There is no clear understanding of how Amazon would use this data. Because of these concerns, the Colorado concert venue Red Rocks rejected this technology, and Fight for the Future sponsored the website Amazondoesntrock.com to encourage other concert venues to reject it as well.
- Do spiders dream? New research suggests they might. Scientists at the University of Konstanz in Germany have been researching the sleep behavior of jumping spiders. As reported in Scientific American, behavioral ecologist Daniela C. Rößler discovered that when asleep, these spiders have the same leg twitching and other movements that we see in our pet dogs and cats. The scientists still need to do more tests to confirm that the spiders are actually asleep, but preliminary results suggest that dreaming may be more widespread throughout the animal kingdom. The real question that they won’t be able to answer any time soon is whether spiders dream about squishing people under their own feet.
Tip of the Week
When you’re searching Google, are you making the most of your search queries? Here are a few things to try the next time you’re looking up a recipe or historical factoid.
- Use quotation marks to search a phrase. Although Google often doesn’t require them, for more complex search queries, quotation marks will give you a better, and more specific, result.
- Use the – (minus) sign to exclude a term from a search. If you want to make low-carb brownies but can’t eat almonds, low carb brownies -almond will return recipes that don’t use almond flour.
- Search specific sites. Searching security site:Namecheap.com will return all content here on Namecheap that includes “security”. This trick is especially useful for sites that don’t have a search function on the site
- Ask questions with minimal words. While you can search for what are the closest local restaurants, it’s often easier to search restaurants near me (plus Google will be able to auto-complete more easily). Think of the simplest way to phrase your search, and your conciseness should return better results.
- Use Google Image Search to find the source (or sources) of images. If you find a photo and want to see where else it was used, upload it (or enter a link) in GIS and see all of the other examples of that image (or similar images) online.