In a gaffe which Yahoo’s computers couldn’t care less about, but which has caused some embarrassment for humans in the company, an automated system linked a news article to Flickr pictures tagged with the keywords “underage girls”.
It’s understandable how an amoral computer could make the association — the article concerned Ashley Dupré — however it turned up some rather dubious images that most people would not have expected to see linked to from a serious news article.
It graphically illustrates the problem website owners face with automating various aspects of content publishing. You’d get almost complete control by manually creating links to relevant, useful information, but that would take far too long. Getting a computer to tag keywords often works well, but sometimes it goes wrong.
In the past, another unruly computer placed an ad for luggage alongside a news story about a murder victim whose body was found in a suitcase. Definite fail.
Yahoo has since blocked the term “underage girls” so that it will no longer generate automated links, but you can be fairly certain that other keywords are lurking, ready to be misused by over-exuberant computers.
Yahoo’s Chief Technology Officer, Marc Frons, said, “The quality of the content and the information is paramount. You want to make sure you’re striking the right balance between giving your readers everything the Web has to offer with making sure they’re getting the right information and the relevant information.”