The Consequences of an Echo Chamber for Google Search

January 19, 2018

I read “Google Memory Loss.” The author is a fellow who created a text search engine, helped found OpenText, did some time at the GOOG, and swam in the Semantic Web pond.

The write up provides useful information to anyone wondering why a Google query for a company name goes off the rails or why the Google suggestions have zero relevance to the user’s query.

There were some important points in the write up; for example:

  1. Search is “crushingly expensive”. This means that when Google needs to cut costs and maximize revenue, the company will make business decisions. The decisions may favor advertising revenues. Maybe.
  2. Archival information is not popular. The reasoning may be, “Why index this stuff or revisit the archive to figure out if there is “new information” in the old archive? If old information is not important, what about unpopular sites the National Railway Retirement Board Web content?
  3. Google is into the timely, not the research-centric type of query.
  4. Dr. Bray uses Google but supplements the look up by using very un-Googley search systems.

Here in Harrod’s Creek, we love the Google. Filtered, ad-tailored results are perfect for looking up KY Fry or the NCAA rules committee’s favorite team, the Louisville Cardinals.

A search for Cardinals returns this results page this morning:


Lots of Googlers love March Madness. Too bad if a 7th grader has to look up information about cardinals with feathers.

Stephen E Arnold, January 19, 2018

Are There Only 10,000 Machine Learning Experts? LinkedIn Offers a Different Number, 651,627

January 18, 2018

I read in the dead tree edition of the New York Times (still not a tabloid sized “real” journalism delivery vehicle) that there are 10,000 machine learning experts in the world. You can find a version of this story at this link.

Just to check the validity of this magical number, which reinforces the notion of elitism, the one percent of the one percent, and the complexity of the Dark Arts of smart software, I did some research.

I turned to LinkedIn, entered the phrase “machine learning” and this is what I learned from the Microsoft professional social media search system:


I realize that the low key colors and gray type are unreadable, but contact Microsoft LinkedIn, not me.

There are more than 38,000 jobs open for experts in machine learning.

What’s the talent pool?

The number is 651,627.

Now I understand that if one is making a list of top anything, the peak of the pyramid will be, by definition, one. For music, you may have disagreements. For machine learning, it’s different.

Since machine learning and other smart software jargon is pretty vague, mostly incorrect, and generally misunderstood, the New York Times’ story missed the mark by a mere 641,627 “experts.” Keep in mind anyone can say one is an expert in anything unless the government regulates via licenses like those issued to doctors, lawyers, and beauticians. Beauticians? Yep.

Ah, you say. LinkedIn is for marketers and headhunters.

Yes, I respond.

But the point is that in jargon charged disciplines, it is tough to convince me that there are 10,000 machine learning experts in the world. My hunch is that the cream of the crop will be a handful of people, assuming that one can define what it takes to be an expert; for instance:

  1. Math skills that go beyond the required course in computer science with an emphasis on artificial intelligence
  2. Math skills which nose into the territory of Kolmogorov and his cronies (yep, my uncle, the crony)
  3. Database skills tuned to deal with machine learning
  4. Linguistics capabilities to cope with multi lingual content
  5. Engineering skills tuned to the peculiar demands of a real time stream of intercepted data from an outfit like WebHose
  6. Subject matter experts with knowledge of such exciting topics as Bayesian “drift” and how to make necessary human interventions to get the statistical ship back on course
  7. Operations experts who can get something useful from a ML-infused application like creating a smart home appliance which does not burn the roast chicken which must be well done for an ageing boxer.

I could go on.

Right now, anyone can claim to be an expert in machine learning. The problem is that machine learning is not one thing. Google is bundling up a bunch of stuff and making it available to LinkedIn type experts.

What could possibly go wrong? Let’s hope the New York Times knows exactly which type of expert in the components of machine learning to have a reasonable shot of reporting on the event that catches a “real” newsperson’s attention.

Stephen E Arnold, January 18, 2017

Some Think Google Is No Longer the King of Search

January 18, 2018

Google is much more than a search engine, it’s a verb. Like Xerox and Kleenex before it, that says something about the hierarchy of their business. However, some are claiming it’s time for alternatives (In search…not in copy-making or nose blowing). This, according to a recent Eyerys story, “Searching Beyond Google: When The Internet is Too Big for a Single Search Engine.”

According to the story:

[T]he information you need might be hidden from the tools you use. Either because the webmasters wanted that to happen by blocking search engines’ access, or inaccessible by search engine because they are behind paywalls or login forms, or lies inside the deep web.

To access them, you need more specific tools other than search engines, and look at the right place, with the right privilege.

If and only if you still can’t find the information you’re looking for, it’s either not available on the internet, or doesn’t exist in the first place.

Or, they could be hidden inside database, encrypted, lies deeper and accessible to only using certain IPs, classified methods or privilege. In this case, it’s not publicly available though it is there. You need to be a hacker to get yourself into that, and that is certainly illegal by any means.

While the story has its heart in the right place, recommending alternative engines, like DuckDuckGo, and giving tips on using social media for search, it’s not really too believable. For one, humans are creatures of habit and they are stuck on the single search engine method. This is wishful thinking, and actually makes sense in places, but we can’t see it happening.

Patrick Roland, January 18, 2018

Out with the Old, in with the New at Google

January 17, 2018

It may have started with its finance app, but Google is making some drastic changes you might want to keep an eye on. We discovered the tip of the iceberg with Google Blog piece, “Stay on Top of Finance Information on Google.”

According to the story:

Now under a new search navigation tab called “Finance,” you’ll have easier access to finance information based on your interests, keeping you in the know about the latest market news and helping you get in-depth insights about companies. On this page, you can see performance information about stocks you’ve chosen to follow, recommendations on other stocks to follow based on your interests, related news, market indices, and currencies.

As part of this revamped experience, we’re retiring a few features of the original Google Finance, including the portfolio, the ability to download your portfolio, and historical tables. However, a list of the stocks from your portfolio will be accessible through Your Stocks in the search result, and you can get notifications when there are any notable changes on their performance.

Not a big shock, but a big part of Google trying to freshen things up. The company has been in hot water with a string of YouTube videos deemed too much. So, with moves like improving its algorithm to weed out fake news, changes to Google Home, and even Maps, Google is sending a message. The message is one of change and one we hope is for the better.

Patrick Roland, January 17, 2018

Google Tries Like Crazy to End Extreme Content Controversy

January 16, 2018

Google is having a tough time lately. When it purchased YouTube few thought extremist videos and wonky children’s programming would be its most concerning headaches. But their solutions remain strained, as we discovered in a recent Verge story, “YouTube Has Removed Thousands of Videos from Extremist Cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki.”

Google removed hundreds of al-Awalaki’s videos in 2010 which directly advocated violence, following the conviction of Roshonara Choudhry, a radicalized follower who stabbed British MP Stephen Timms earlier that year. At the time, a YouTube spokesperson cited the site’s guidelines against inciting violence. But al-Awalaki posted tens of thousands of other videos, and in subsequent years, was cited as an influence in other notable terrorist attacks at Fort Hood, the Boston Marathon, San Bernardino, and Orlando, Florida.

This comes on the heels of another Verge story with a similar issue, “YouTube Says it Will Crack Down on Bizarre Videos Targeting Children.”

We’re in the process of implementing a new policy that age restricts this content in the YouTube main app when flagged,” said Juniper Downs, YouTube’s director of policy. “Age-restricted content is automatically not allowed in YouTube Kids.” YouTube says that it’s been formulating this new policy for a while, and that it’s not rolling it out in direct response to the recent coverage.

Google is trying to do better, but it seems like they are fighting off an avalanche with a snow shovel. Luckily, as Washington Post points out, the United States leads the world in terms of big data. One can hope that a solution lies in their somewhere, but good luck predicting what it will be.

Patrick Roland, January 17, 20186

Alphabet Google Is Allegedly Inventing the Future

January 14, 2018

I read an interesting round up of Alphabet Google’s research initiatives. The article’s title is “The Future According to Alphabet Moonshots: From Calico to X.”

The write up begins by pointing out that Alphabet Google has trimmed some of its notable explorations. I learned:

Alphabet has already started to shed some of its less successful side projects, suggesting the holding company will only tolerate so much discomfort. In the past year, it sold satellite imaging firm Terra Bella and terrifying robotics division Boston Dynamics, while shuttering down solar-powered, internet-by-drone idea Titan and modular smartphone Project Ara.

Yep, cost control exists at Alphabet Google.

The list of “inventions” for the future mentioned in the article includes:

  • Calico which is part of the “solving death” thing
  • CapitalG, which is another of Alphabet Google’s “invest in others” activities
  • DeepMind, which is Alphabet Google’s smart software outfit
  • Jigsaw, the company’s “tech accelerator.”
  • Project Jacquard which is focused on weaving electronics into clothing
  • Project Soli which is a sensor “that uses radar to track miniscule motions”
  • Sidewalk Labs, which is Google’s smart city play
  • Verily, which seems to be another component of the “solving death”, immortality initiative
  • Waymo, which is the self driving auto initiative
  • X, which is the home of the Loon Balloon and “early stage trials”

Several thoughts crossed my mind as I worked through this list.

  1. Google is largely dependent on online advertising for its revenues. After 20 years of investing and inventing, the company still remains dependent on an idea inspired by You know trend lines reveal quite a bit about the past and the future. This trend line suggests that Alphabet Google is an online advertising company with little success in diversification or leapfrogging.
  2. Alphabet Google in into a wide spectrum of technologies. The unifying theme of these inventions, bets, or moonshots is not evident to me. The analogy is a person who has money betting on many different long odds lottery games.
  3. The artificial intelligence plays like DeepMind do not allow Alphabet Google to deal with malware in the Android store, filter YouTube videos for certain proscribed content for children, and cope with Google Images penchant for returning oddball search results. (Try male bikini without parental filters enabled.)

Without doing any additional research, I think that Alphabet Google is demonstrating that some Internet start up ideas do not enable additional revenue streams by throwing money at many bets. The old Bell Labs pulled off this trick but so far Google has not been able to duplicate Bell Telephone’s success in innovations that stick, then diffuse, and ultimately create new businesses.

Alphabet Google’s principal mechanism for innovation is the thousands of former Google employees who have left the company and pursued their own ideas. A good example is the Xoogler magnet Facebook.

Also, will Alphabet Google be been able to match Amazon’s revenue diversification?

Is Alphabet Google inventing the future? Yes, as long as it hires smart people who leave the company. The internal track record is interesting, but it has done little to allow the company to shake its addiction to online ad revenue.

What happens if that ad revenue softens, faces regulation in Europe and elsewhere, and erodes the online search value statement?

Has Alphabet Google’s bets created a situation in which the company must dog paddle frantically to maintain the status quo?

Stephen E Arnold, January 14, 2018

Google: Even More Humans Needed

January 12, 2018

I read “Google Plans to Vet YouTube Premium Video Content.” The main point of the write up strikes me as:

Google told partners that it plans to use both human moderators — the company recently announced it will have 10,000 employees focused on the task — as well as artificial intelligence software to flag videos deemed inappropriate for ads.

Yep, humans. Just like the old fashioned, endangered newspaper, magazine, and commercial database companies did.

I find this amusing because the shift at Google is similar to the approach that Facebook seems to be implementing. Humans who require vacations, medical insurance, retirement plans, vacations, and management. Well, maybe not management in the go go gig approach to business.

My take on this allegedly accurate real news story is:

  1. The baloney about smart software is starting to become inedible even for the most ardent lovers of processed hype
  2. The cost controls now in place are going to be reworked which means more for fee services for formerly “free” stuff. I can envision a subscription service with regular rate increases easily.
  3. The predictions that 2018 will transform businesses may become true in an unexpected manner: More flawed operations plus higher costs.

Interesting stuff. Going to the museum of information production and walking off with old fashioned tools. What’s next? typewriters and some Linotype machines?

Stephen E Arnold, January 12, 2018

Google and China: The Story Moves Forward

January 7, 2018

Years ago I recall that Google allegedly wanted China to change its ways. One consequence of that “suggestion” was that Google found itself dropping down the Chinese politicos’ list of favorite online companies.

According to “Google Continues China Push with Investment in YouTube Gaming Like eSports Startup,” Google is investing in Chinese companies; for example:

Chushou is a live streaming mobile game platform that is now valued at $120 million following the latest investment round which Google was a part of.

After the 2010 dust up with the Middle Kingdom, Google invested in Mobvoi, a Chinese artificial intelligence company, and set up an artificial intelligence research lab.

Will the ruling entities in China welcome Google’s attempts to return to the good graces of the largest country on earth?

From my vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky, my thought formulation is that China has not softened on Google or any American company. In my experience, Chinese authorities are not into the American approach to disruptive innovation.

Worth monitoring how this story unfolds.

Stephen E Arnold, January 7, 2018

Google and the Purloined Letter Tactic

January 6, 2018

I am amused by bright “real” journalists who have a knack for documenting the obvious.

First, however, check out this diagram from a report I wrote in 2004 for a client and published a year later as “The Google Legacy.” (A fair copy is still available by writing benkent2020 at yahoo dot com.)


This is my presentation of the Google “walled garden.” Note that the information I gathered made this approach clear at the same time Google was just starting to catch the attention of “real” journalists.

The diagram makes it clear that if one wants to play in the Google garden, there are a couple of ways in. Neither is without restrictions.

Now consider this write up which is getting some Twitter love on January 6, 2017:

Chrome Is Turning into the New Internet Explorer 6

The idea is that Google is — gasp! — now making Chrome less “open.”

The date on the write up? 2004, 2010, 2015? Nah. January 4, 2018.

Talk about old news. Yeah, why not? The puloined letter was in plain site. No mystery. Just human inability to preceive reality.

Stephen E Arnold, January 6, 2018

Loon Balloon Crashes in Kenya. Legal Eagles Take Flight

January 5, 2018

A few days ago I read “Google High Altitude Balloon Crashes in Meru Miraa Farm.” I bopped over to Google Maps and plugged in “Nthambiro, Meru, Kenya.” As you can tell from the screen shot of this “location,” Google Maps provides modest detail and no coordinates for Nthambiro, Meru.


The primary school in the picture is interesting, but I have zero idea where the Loon balloon crashed.

One of my newsfeeds spit out this article today: “Farmer Threatens to Slap Google with Suit over Balloon Crash.”

The lawyers involved in the issue could locate the farm and track down Joseph Nguthari, whose property was trampled by neighbors who wanted to check out the Loon balloons. The write up asserts:

Mr Nguthari says curious residents trampled on his maize, beans and green grams crop while some helped themselves to his Miraa trees causing ‘massive’ damage.

The write up explains that people came in “droves.” Seven acres of crops were “trampled.”

The write up reports that Mr. Nguthari stated:

“The damage was made worse after police officers shot in the air to disperse the crowd that was keen to see the device. People were running in all directions destroying my farm produce. My farmhand also left on that day,” he added. The device was one of 10 balloons deployed for testing in Nakuru, Nanyuki, Nyeri and Marsabit in July last year. It was being navigated remotely to land in a less populated area but strong winds led it to Mr Nguthari’s farm.

I ran the query for the location on Bing Maps. Zip.

From my point of view, legal eagles are able to pinpoint the location of an event which can be converted into a high profile legal attack on Google.

No update is available to us in Harrod’s Creek about the Loon balloons that were to provide Internet access to Puerto Rico.

We’re confident that the alleged “damage” to the crops is no big deal. Google’s legal team can deal with any litigation. However, Google Maps may not be all that helpful.

Stephen E Arnold, January 5, 2018

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