Google on “special people”

Computers aren’t politically correct. Computers aren’t sensitive to someone’s feelings. Computers don’t feel social pressures or have a conscience. So when a company entrusts all of its “editorial” control to software-generated algorithms, things can go wrong.

Case in point: search “special people” on Google Images, and receive the suggested search “retards.” Barry Schwartz found this anomaly through a tip and blogged about it. Fortunately for the world’s largest search engine, Google employees are frequent readers of his blog, and generally fix errors he reports on within a couple hours, Schwartz said. As of this morning, the search term suggestion is no longer listed.

But that didn’t stop a barrage of searches for the term. Schwartz’s blog post hit the top of Digg‘s recent stories, which sent the term spiralling to the top of Google’s search trend list, where it’s enjoyed its dominant spot all morning.

It’s probably a good thing Google has people constantly checking for these bad publicity pitfalls. But with the way the Internet works, if any anomaly presents itself even for a moment, somebody is going to be there ready to take a screen grab.

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