Google News' chief robot speaks out

Bleep - it's not my fault - bleep


Is Google News' chief scientist, Krishna Bharat, actually a robot? From an interview in the current issue of Wired magazine, it's increasingly difficult to conclude that Bharat could convincingly pass the Turing Test. Every time Google News is criticized for bias, Bharat is wheeled to field out an identical reply. He claims that humans can't be held responsible for what appears on his website - because machines are in charge.

"The truth is, Google News doesn't have a point of view," he tells the magazine. "It's a computer, and computers do not understand these topics the way humans do and can't be systematically biased in any direction."

Surely even a simple Eliza script could produce a more convincing reply, or at least have been tweaked moderate it subtly on each occasion. This leaves us skeptical: the Bharatbot is long overdue a maintenance upgrade.

Now even hive-minded Google fans who are predisposed to viewing the internet as a "natural democracy" (in Google's own words) are beginning to smell something fishy in the Chief Bot's refusal to take responsibility. Google News alone consistently ranks as the fifth most popular site in the United States - so its reach and influence are matters of public concern. Amongst the groups getting a chance-in-a-lifetime publicity boost from the website are the fascist British National Party, we discovered.

The controversy began eighteen months ago when Google News began to include corporate and lobbyists' press releases in its aggregator. After our stories, Google began to tag identify stories as press releases. One Friday evening back in April 2003, the company even promised to publish a public, written policy for inclusion the following Monday. (You can read what happened here). To this day, Google hasn't published a criteria for what goes in to the news aggregator, and has used the same reasoning to counter privacy concerns about its Gmail service.

It's a PR disaster almost entirely of Google's own making. Google's refusal to take responsibility for its actions isn't exactly original: at one point in an Antitrust deposition Bill Gates claimed that "the computer wrote" one particular incriminating email. It's the "cat ate my homework" excuse of the 21st Century. But Google insults the intelligence of its users, who are well aware that Google's computers process whatever its human operators tell them to process.

So human or algorithm? We're leaning towards the latter. What the Bharatbot doesn't seem to have been programmed with is the experience of ever having being someone who reads the news himself: and experience is often the vital difference between bot and machine. ®

Related link

Bharat: human or robot? You decide [Wired]

Related stories

Tide of migrant BNP PR menaces Google News
PR Rules OK? Google ducks promised News pledge
Google launches email, takes the Bill Gates defense
“This MS Antitrust story was created by a computer program”


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022