Thinking Out Loud

December 18, 2020

A Friend of Mine is Dead … Except That He Isn’t

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:58 am

If you Google the name of a friend of mine, you’ll discover that he died. In 1984. Accept that he didn’t. Google has taken the information about a sports personality I hadn’t heard of, and conflated it with the picture image of my friend who, according to his own blog post this morning, is very much alive. (I hesitate to include his name here, along with phrases like “sports personality” because the Google bots will just have a further feeding frenzy on the conflation. But I’ll link to his blog at the end which is bad enough.)

There are two issues at play here.

First, Google, established a search engine — and let the reader understand what that phrase means — decided it wasn’t enough just to lead people to the information sought, but it wanted to provide the information with its page one search results.

So you get situations where if you Google “lyrics: [name of song]” you see results displayed on your screen. Sort of. What you actually get is often the first two verses and the chorus. You still have to click to see the bridge, the second chorus, and the coda, but those first verses and chorus are often enough to satisfy some seekers.

This way Google keeps you satisfied on page one, with its advertising hitting your eyes.

The second issue, is that sometimes Google simply gets it wrong, as is the case here. (Furthermore, it wasn’t even the other person’s legal name, but rather a nickname.)

A similar situation happened to my wife’s first cousin. He was running for Member of Parliament. We don’t have an elected Senate, so for my U.S. readers, this is the same as running for Congress. Someone determined to undermine his ambitions dug up an old video from his comedy days that was probably both hilarious and acceptable back in the day, but would be considered no longer politically correct today. That’s all it took; that was the end of his governmental career, before the election even happened.

Trouble is, the same weekend, the same political party had to dismiss another candidate who was caught on camera doing something untoward — some would use the word disgusting — while doing work in someone’s house.

Google conflated the two stories. Use keywords for the latter situation and you get my wife’s cousin’s name. Everywhere.

I recently experienced the Google curse personally.

When the pandemic struck, people kept coming in to the bookstore we own saying they had arrived at 10:00 AM but nobody was there. We had cut back our hours, but they insisted they had seen it online that we opened at 10:00.

  • I checked our website
  • I checked our Facebook page
  • I checked our newsletter, which does have an online component
  • I even checked our answering machine
  • I did a double-take and re-checked the sign in the window

Nope. They all said 11:00 AM. I never thought to Google our business name. Didn’t know that was thing beyond linking to our site. And there was the error. I was able to get that one fixed within 24 hours. Some situations are not so straightforward.

As my wife is so fond of saying, “Google is an idiot.”

The truth in her words is to be found in the rather oxymoronic concept of artificial intelligence. There is an intelligence that I believe is only found in humans; one that computers, no matter how well they play chess, can never hope to match (if they have hopes at all, which I would argue they don’t.)

My friend, keeping a sense of humor about the whole mess, wrote,

This comes as a great surprise to me. I don’t feel dead. I don’t remember dying.

I have faith he’ll work the system to get the error corrected, but the one involving my wife’s cousin has spread so far and so wide that it will probably follow him for a very long time.

This technology is not serving us at all.

Google is an idiot.


To read my friend’s un-obituary — and you’ll recognize him as he has contributed three articles here — click this link.

2 Comments »

  1. I have stopped using google. I now use DuckDuckGo as I does not track your search history and gives equally valuable results to the better known search engines. Give it a try.

    Comment by Rocky — December 18, 2020 @ 1:08 pm

  2. Reblogged this on random thoughts from lorne and commented:
    I was originally planning on not posting today, but didn’t want to make it seem that Google was right in killing me off. One of my friends posted a long commentary on my death, so I figured why not share it here.

    Comment by Lorne Anderson — December 19, 2020 @ 2:37 pm


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