(Cross-posted from Tawtof)
Ah Google. Any company that can have three copies of the Internet just kind of lying around is awesome to behold.
And Google Image Search is a modern marvel. All the speed and power of Google Search, now with the nerve-rattling immediacy of images.
However, despite the best efforts of thousands of PhD graduates, image searching is still flat-out wonky.
Text? Ooh yes, we can search text! Is the word I’m looking for in your page? Yes/No. Done.
(I am over-simplifying. The job of then ranking every page on the internet in order of relevance is absolutely horrifying to contemplate, but nevertheless kind of a solved problem.)
And we all know that typically the number one Google hit for a particular word is a definition of that word, or the home page of a company called that word, or very often a serious Wikipedia article summarising the complete history of human endeavour around that word. Serious, relevant, useful.
But image search is another beast entirely.
There is no canonical image for anything. Not even close. Unless it’s an image of an image, and even then it could be a forgery.
And for images of concepts it’s even worse. In text-land, we could point to a bunch of dictionaries for the definition of “wind”, and perhaps even highlight the best definition. By contrast, trying to ascertain the top 10 photos that describe “wind” would be basically pointless.
Same goes for “nancy“, or “shape“, or “old“.
The photos that appear may all contain those things, but they’re hardly the canonical definition of them. The idea that you could rank all the images in the world by relevance to a single word is so painful to contemplate that the very thought would send most PhD graduates flinging themselves off the nearest definition of “balcony”.
All of which is why I love typing “arsehole” into Google Images.
Because – no matter the consequences – whatever comes up is still, by definition, the number one arsehole on the planet.
According to who?
According to machines.
The machines that decide for us that Wikipedia has great definitions (it does), that you have new email and that this is the only new email you have, because we have decided all this other stuff is spam and there’s no need for you to even look at it.
So, what do the machines think is the number one hit for Arsehole?
A young black man on the London tube, looking a lot like he doesn’t want to be photographed.
The story that accompanies the article is hosted on Samizdata.net, a self-described “blog that brings you news & views from a critically rational social individualist perspective”. The Samizdats are a crew of London-based Civil Libertarians that sprang out of libertarian.co.uk led by Perry De Havilland, a “trans-Atlantic Entrepreneur” who casually reels off phrases like “The core of what makes this so wrong lies as usual at the meta-contextual level”.
When you can discredit the core of someone else’s argument using a word and concept you invented then you’re not just dealing with meta-context, but meta-language and possibly even meta-credibility.
Person A: “You can’t say that. You’re a blurglefincher.”
Person B: “A what?”
Person A: “Blurglefincher. It’s a word that means ‘the person who just lost this argument’.”
Perry rightly dismisses a purely-Utilitarian view of the world (as one must with a purely-anything view of the world – cf. Quantum Mechanics), but the cognitive momentum carries him way out into into the intellectual deep-end where every edifice that society has constructed to keep us fed, educated, safe and healthy has to be disposed of because it somehow affects individual liberty.
For example, they refuse to discuss the Second Amendment in the US in the context of gun control because they reject the very notion that a State should be granting us “rights”. Uh oh.
So, back to the black kid who appears when you search for “arsehole”. It appears at the top of an article.
The article (helpfully titled “Does anyone know who this asshole is?“) asks for help finding the young black man, as he is alleged to have assaulted a Samizdata community member called Jackie.
This act has incensed the Samizdata community, who rail against the unhelpfulness of Police, the lack of civility in society, and the fact that they’re not legally allowed to carry around weapons to they could defend the woman’s honour in the most direct possible way.
So what was the nature of the assault? They helpfully provide a link to Jackie’s blog where she details the attack. In point form:
- She just spent hours detailing the attack to the Police
- The attack was unprovoked
- She said that there was some “physical violence”, but didn’t to go into detail
- She said that the perps followed her down some stairs shouting abuse, and then caught the same train as her (which is how she took the photo)
- Later, the police apparently arrested one of the men.
Now, at no point do I want to imply that there was no physical attack or that it wasn’t completely awful. I actually feel terrible for this woman even for the details she did describe (the verbal abuse).
The point I want to very very carefully make is that we have absolutely no idea what happened, not even from Jackie herself. No details on whether they had weapons, how the attack came about, whether it was a nudge or whether it was rape.
Hey, you know what? That’s completely okay. It’s a private matter for Jackie, her family, and the police.
And also, apparently, hordes of gun-toting new-Libertarians who want to bring their own brand of hate-filled vigilante justice down upon the head of this chubby black kid for [INSERT CRIME HERE].
Because it turns out that they’re a bit odd.
Turning briefly to the comments on the original article, we find plenty of thinly-veiled racism.
Hmmm. It just struck me that Baker Street is the stopping off point for many heading to and from the Baker Street mosque. You dont suppose……?
And a dash of homophobia along with brutal and luridly-ironic vengeance:
Sickening. He looks like a pansy and pantywaist just waiting for someone to chin jab his flabby ass in unconciousness.
I hope he dies while painfully violated.
And then downright weirdness, like referring to Somalians a “dirt-scratching savages”, or asking that the police force “DOES ITS FRICKIN JOB INSTEAD OF ATTENDING DIVERSITY LECURES”.
But it gets worse than the threats.
I was in Barbican market this afternoon (3;30pm) and saw someone who I thought looked like a spitting image of the shitbag in your picture. As I walked by him, staring as I tried to figure out if I really was looking at the piece of trash, he gave me a hearty and somewhat aggressive “Alright mate!?” About 5′10″ 150kg. I would say he’s about 15yo. I suspect he studies in the Barbican area and just finished with school.
Okay, so now we’ve gone from “let’s find this person” to the very brink of “kill all people that look like him”. He certainly fits the description though: black, male, and reacts badly to being stared at in a crowded place. Get him!
Imagine what could have resulted if, as many of the bloggers and commenters claim, everyone in Britain should be allowed to carry concealed weapons? Not only would the crime have been worse, the retribution could have been catastrophic.
If this is the alternative to Government, I’d rather live in Myanmar.
There are so many ironic twists to this story I feel dizzy. For example, if it wasn’t for justice-crazed civil libertarians we would have such a need for governments and police to protect us from their vigilante whims. If it wasn’t for people demanding the free trade of deadly weapons there would be a much need to have one. The fact that they encourage a “meta-contextual” view of the world that respects each person’s point of view, yet pay no heed to the fact that this kid might have his own story to tell about what happened. And so on.
So in the end, in a weird kind of way, Google was absolutely right. The top hit led to biggest pack of arseholes I’ve ever seen.
The Internet is an amazing place. Just to cleanse the mental palate, I leave you with the number 2 hit. Goodnight.