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When computers write obits

Ilya Yashin is very much alive, despite the best efforts of an AI program that wanted him dead.

Not that the software had malicious intentions, mind you. It was really all a big misunderstanding, you see.

Yashin under the bridge

The trouble started with a pun in a headline in a Russian newspaper, according to the blog VeryRussianTochkaNet. The linguistic trickery was misread by the artificial intelligence program used by Russian search engine Yandex to analyze news stories and then automatically generate profiles of politicians and other notable folks.

On November 23, Yashin and Maria Gaidar donned mountaineering gear to suspend a 33-foot banner under a bridge near the Kremlin to protest legislative shenanigans--"Give people back the elections, bastards!" the banner reads in Cyrillic script. (This LiveJournal page offers lots of photos of the stunt.) Playful wording in a news account suggested that the activists had hanged themselves, meaning they had gotten themselves in trouble. The Yandex software missed the double entendre and took the report literally.

Still among the living, Yashin himself apparently was the first to notice the error in his Yandex media profile just a few days ago. The search engine unapologetically notes that profiles may contain factual errors.