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Google search reveals Indian prime minister among 'top 10 criminals'

Technically Incorrect: Search for "top 10 criminals" and you'll find Indian leader Narendra Modi, as well as George W Bush. Are machines not as clever as we think?

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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The world seems to have a limited view of criminality. At least according to Google. screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Ours is a world listing to starboard, while we ignore our fate and pour over listicles.

The Five Reasons Why and the Do These Ten Things lists guide us when all else fails (which it usually does.)

You'd think, though, that Google's machines would be above machination. If you perform, say a Google image search of the top 10 criminals, you'll find heinous figures such as Stalin, Hitler and other mass murderers.

Instead, there are countless pictures of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (as well as one of Al Capone and one of George W. Bush).

Some thought this was another wheeze similar to one on Google Maps where an image of an Android logo urinating over an Apple logo somewhere in Pakistan appeared.

A company spokeswoman told me: "Sometimes, the way images are described on the Internet can yield surprising results to specific queries. We apologize for any confusion or misunderstanding this has caused. We're continually working to improve our algorithms to prevent unexpected results like this."

One would have imagined that there was more than just confusion or misunderstanding.

Meanwhile, the company has added some words to the search results: "These results don't reflect Google's opinion or our beliefs; our algorithms automatically matched the query to web pages with these images."

Does that mean other search results do reflect Google's opinion or beliefs?

Google told me that these anomalous search results were caused by a British newspaper posting an image of Modi with confusing alternative text.

Modi was accused in 2002 of attempted genocide during anti-Muslim riots in the Gujarat province. Indian courts cleared him of the charges, though suspicions remain. A US judge also dismissed a lawsuit brought against him.

Google is reportedly trying to find a fix for these search results. However, they do bring to light how we trust machines more and more for information, without necessarily wondering how the machines came to their results.

The more instant and automated our lives become, the more interested we are in having things now, rather than right.