Thursday 8 January 2015

When Google Gets It Wrong

Google is an amazing tool. I am constantly dazzled by its prowess at predicting my thoughts. Others may be annoyed by the advertising it chooses to send, but I find that it knows me well enough to present some pretty nifty stuff. Google knows what I want even better than my wife. To be fair, though, I don't surf porn with my wife.

Sometimes, however, even Google makes mistakes...

The other day I looked up "teeth" and was served an ad that said, "Watch teeth on Netflix." That did not make it to number one on my "To Do" list.

A new feature on Google's image search allows you to find pictures that are similar to one you already have. I dropped that first picture (on the far left) into the search engine and this is what it came up with...

Well, I guess 2 out of 3 isn't so bad. And it did provide the woman's name, which was what I was after. It did not give me her phone number, which was a bit disappointing.

So then I tried searching based on my profile picture.

 I figured Google would come up with occurrences of this same pic on social media and, sure enough, here's what I got...

Fair enough. But then I clicked on Visually Similar...

Really, Google?

I was particularly intrigued by the inclusion of The Pope, an Asian bride and several black guys but flattered that almost everyone who is visually similar to me is good looking and about half my age! Interestingly, I am not visually similar to any image of me on the internet.

I realized that a higher resolution image might get better results, so I submitted the high-res original of that same picture to the search engine. It returned the same web links as before and did a slightly better job of matching me, I think. Fewer Asian brides, anyway.

Here are some of the more notable highlights...


Ok Google, now you're just messing with me.

So is this feature useful? Well, actually, among the strange strays, it does manage to find duplicates of the pic you are looking for and that can be very useful if, for instance, you start with a poor quality image and can unearth a better version. It can also reveal the names of people and objects that you can't otherwise identify and it can help you find the context for a puzzling image.

One thing: If you happen  to witness a Google search engine mistake, be sure to screen capture it because when you search for "Google mistakes" on Google, suspiciously, none appear.

Could this, in itself, be a Google search engine mistake?
Google may have gotten this one wrong, but nothing a little bit of Photoshop couldn't fix.

On a related note: Here's an interesting search engine game you might want to try. Type the beginning of a sentence into the Google search engine and watch the auto-complete guess the rest...

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