When Algorithms Go Bad
October 14th, 2007; updated December 12th, 2009; August 18th, 2010; November 8th, 2010;
December 24th, 2010; September 27th, 2011, October 20th, 2012, November 16th, 2012
I am very much a believer in algorithmic approaches to problem-solving. The alternative (data-intensive approaches) is just too dumb and hard to work with. A good algorithm can accomplish so much more. Besides, I’ve always harped about the importance of process intensity (based on algorithms) versus data intensity (based on data tables)
However, the algorithmic approach has its own particular problem: you can never be certain that it will produce results that are quite what you intended. You must be very careful in designing your algorithms to avoid this problem.
Google is one of the primary exponents of algorithm-driven approaches to computing, and I believe this fundamental philosophical outlook is a major factor in Google’s success. However, there is one place where Google’s algorithms fall a little short, with hilarious results. The Google news system picks out the best news stories to present to the viewer, and that story-picking algorithm is pretty good. However, it has another algorithm that picks a good image to accompany the story, and that algorithm has a few problems. I present here for your entertainment some of the better examples of this phenomenon, which I call "Google Bobbles".
"If we can’t play our way, we won’t play at all!"
No more Mr. Nice Guy with the protesters!
"C’mon, kid, quit whining about your missing leg and chase those damn Easter Eggs!"
The End. Oblivion. Nothingness.
It seems those astronauts have been spiffing up the place.
Continental Drift Strikes Georgia!
Looks like they jettisoned it.
I think it actually "fired" them.
I *knew* Star Trek was right!
Clinton, Schminton, they’re all the same anyway, right?
There are no Mac clones on this ship. We’re on a... diplomatic mission.
Oh no! We shut down the company but the Spam-making machine is still grinding them out! We’ll have to bomb the factory!
It’s that Nintendo dieting game that makes the difference.
Yuck! These worms are particularly ferocious!
Hey, Obama’s black, right? Close enough!
Yep, those Israelis in Al-Walajah, Alabama, are pretty mean.
Looks like Mr. Obama is going down in flames.
That new iPad is a killer! (image is from the movie “Jaws”)
You never knew that Muhammed Ali also was known as “The Terror Bird”, did you? (Note article header)
Yep, that beach looks so pristine.
Kermit is the real green candidate
California, Florida, you seen one state, you’ve seen ‘em all.
Sarah Palin: blonde or brunette?
get the Feds out of the Grateful Dead!
Next time, with their new lawyer, they’re gonna win, fer shure!
Yep, we can all agree to go sit on the beach and watch the babes.
Those dirty Republicans and their cheap card tricks.
There’s something wrong with this image search.
They called it “The Long March”
Nyaah, nyaah, nyaah! I got a Nobel Prize and you didn’t!
Tonight, George Will sleeps with the fishes.
Yes, that is a cloud all right.
Tweet, tweet, tweet.
The left hand algorithm doesn’t know what the right hand algorithm is doing.
She sure looks like a skunk to me.
This “news” story appeared on Google news on November 12th, 2012:
Yep, they left out the Hamsters of Death
Cat food just gets more and more expensive every day.
We’re just SO excited to see Mr. Obama!
All the designer needed here was a visual break between the headline and the time stamp.
A few problems with the captioning algorithm
It’s so tiny!
And we’ll be watching you.