In 2014, if you were to Google “King of the United States,” you would have seen a picture of Barack Obama, yelling passionately into a microphone while at a podium. That’s not true, of course. But Google proclaimed it with authority after surfacing a Breitbart article entitled, “All Hail King Barack Obama, Emperor Of The United States of America!”
Google on Thursday unveiled a handful of new features aimed at combating these kinds of falsehoods on its search engine, one of the most widely used information tools on the planet. Far from its origins as a simple website that listed 10 links as search results, Google is now a sprawling and cluttered site that highlights news stories, tweets, maps, hotel bookings, and more. As the site has grown — and as misinformation peddlers have become more sophisticated — the search engine has become more vulnerable to spreading lies and wrong information.
Google said it would use its artificial intelligence systems to improve search snippets. The company will use machine learning software, called MUM, or Multitask Unified Model, to check information across multiple reliable sources that agree on the same facts. The process will allow the system to come to a general consensus, Google said, even if the sources don’t phrase the information in the same way.
The company is also expanding its “About this result” feature, originally released last year, to include more context about search results. In addition to seeing a short description of the website or company and when the result was indexed, people will now also see more granular information about the result. For example, it will tell you if a company is owned by another entity. On the flip side, if Google can’t find much information about a result, it will disclose that as well. The company is also launching “About this result” in more languages, including Spanish, German and Indonesian.
Google is also updating its “content advisories,” which it displays usually during breaking news situations, like a mass shooting or natural disaster, when the situation is developing rapidly and not much information is available. Now, in addition to telling people when information is scarce, it will also warn people when information is available but may be unreliable, based on Google’s ranking system for search results.