Published in AI

Google’s AI can’t spot fake news

by on28 May 2024

Thinks the Onion tells nothing but the truth

Google’s AI has been serving up fake information scraped from the Onion as fact.

For those not in the know, the US tends to think that made-up “funny” fake news is satire, and the brand that has been peddling this stuff for a long time has been the Onion.

Google’s newly launched “AI Overview” lacks that crucial ability. The feature launched less than two weeks ago, answers certain queries at the top of the page above any other online resources. Artificial intelligence creates its answers from the knowledge it has synthesized from around the web, which would be great, except not everything on the Internet is true.

For example if you asked Google “how many rocks should I eat each day” it will pull a  word-for-word 2021 Onion headline for a story in which geologists recommend eating one a day (because to an American that is funny). Another search, “what colour highlighters do the CIA use,” prompted Overview to answer “black,” which was an Onion joke from the dark ages.

Writer Parker Molloy conducted further tests that found Google’s AI simply couldn’t differentiate between news and “satire” in the same way that most Americans cannot tell the difference between humour and lies.

Other examples suggest the tool doesn’t know how to sift out bad information. One viral search on how to keep cheese from sliding off a pizza got a response to try using non-toxic glue, culled from a decade-old Reddit comment.

Google AI also cheerfully harbours data from right-wing conspiracy sites. One user searched “How many Muslim presidents has the US had?” and got the result, “The United States has had one Muslim president, Barack Hussein Obama.”

The search engine outfit defended the product, saying that most AI Overviews provide high-quality information with links to dig deeper on the web.

“Many of the examples we’ve seen have been uncommon queries, and we’ve also seen examples that were doctored or that we couldn’t reproduce.”

The company asserted that AI Overview has undergone extensive testing and that Google will take “swift action where appropriate under our content policies.”

To be fair, the internet is full of junk, so of course, the AI is going to learn some junk, but it might be better to ignore obvious purveyors of junk like the Onion.

Last modified on 28 May 2024
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