In August 2018, I searched for "Henry Beard" in Google Images and got back a page full of pictures of Henry Cavill with a beard . This didn't happen because Google is stupid. On the contrary, Google was smart enough to know that Henry Cavill's beard was a hot topic : A QDF (query deserves freshness) algorithm altered the search results to emphasize popularity over accuracy .
Search for "GM" and the Gmail homepage ranks prominently. Is Google pushing its own products on people? Well, yes , but not here. This is an example of a query refinement algorithm at work. Google is altering its results in recognition of the fact that many people who search "gm" subsequently search for "gmail."
(I.e. Based on what you type next, Google knows when you’ve made a fat finger error and assumes other fingers are fat, too.)
These examples are trivial, but they speak to a bigger problem.
Remember that story about the Polish dentist who pulled out all of her ex-boyfriend's teeth in an act of revenge? It was complete and utter bullshit. 100% fabricated. No one knows who wrote it .
Nevertheless, it was picked up by Fox News , the Los Angeles Times and many other publishers. That was eight years ago, yet when I search now for "dentist pulled ex boyfriends teeth," I get a featured snippet that quotes ABC News ' original, uncorrected story.
Who invented the fidget spinner? Ask Google Assistant and it will tell you that Catherine Hettinger did: a conclusion based on poorly-reported stories from The Guardian , The New York Times and other major news outlets. Bloomberg 's Joshua Brustein clearly demonstrated that Ms. Hettinger did not invent the low friction toy. Nevertheless, ask Google Assistant "who really invented the fidget spinner?" and you'll get the same answer: Catherine Hettinger.
In 1998, the velocity of information was slow and the cost of publishing it was high (even on the web). Google leveraged those realities to make the best information retrieval system in the world.
Today, information is free, plentiful and fast moving; somewhat by design, Google has become a card catalog that is constantly being reordered by an angry, misinformed mob.
The web was supposed to forcefully challenge our opinions and push back, like a personal trainer who doesn't care how tired you say you are. Instead, Google has become like the pampering robots in WALL-E , giving us what we want at the expense of what we need. But, it's not our bodies that are turning into mush: It’s our minds.