Dumbing down search

Written By: - Date published: 11:15 am, April 24th, 2012 - 18 comments
Categories: Deep stuff, internet, science - Tags: , , ,

Oh this is a Bad Idea. From theodp on Slashdot:

Microsoft Patent Hints At Search Results Tailored To User’s Mood, Intelligence

“A newly surfaced Microsoft patent application, reports GeekWire, describes a ‘user-following engine’ that analyzes your posts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites to deduce your mood, interests, and even your smarts. The system would then automatically adjust the search experience and results to better match those characteristics, explains Microsoft, such as changing the background color of the search interface to suit your mood, or bringing back only those search results that won’t strain your feeble brain. From the patent application: ‘In addition to skewing the search results to the user’s inferred interests, the user-following engine may further tailor the search results to a user’s comprehension level. For example, an intelligent processing module may be directed to discerning the sophistication and education level of the posts of a user. Based on that inference, the customization engine may vary the sophistication level of the customized search result.'”

Human cognition already has built in tendencies to see what we want to see, to confirm our biases, to select our facts to suit our purposes (just look at climate change deniers, for example). Certain personality types seem to be particularly prone to constructing their own reality in this way. And now it seems we’re going to take the most powerful aggregate of data ever assembled by humanity and bend it to our biases. Close the self-reinforcing loop of information filtering even tighter? Further Balkanise debate into factions that share no common ground?

No, sorry, I know there’s no way of stopping it. But this is the wrong kind of “progress”.

18 comments on “Dumbing down search”

  1. BLiP 1

    There’s a growing need for individuals to maintain a variety of internet identities to avoid this type of corporate soul-fucking. IMHO, that is.

  2. happynz 2

    I’m not on facebook, Twitter, google+, or any other sort of social media, unless something like this counts. Does this site count?

  3. freedom 3

    As with anything of real value the web’s potential was destroyed by wealth. It is no secret the commercially driven search results limit the potential for humans to openly share information. This doorway to social growth was slammed in our faces. The frontiers beyond locked away. Once again the need of greed took over, leaving endless vistas to become little more than postcards of places you had already been.

  4. muzza 4

    Just what do people think that these tech companies, have been/are/will be doing with all the information….

    – Newsflash: Nothing that will benefit society in a meaningful way!

    This article is about 20 years too late, if being read by anyone who understands the links in the chain!

    PS – Its all about your emotions/energy!

  5. joe90 5

    Just what do people think that these tech companies, have been/are/will be doing with all the information….


    CISPA is supported by several trade groups containing more than eight hundred private companies, including the Business Software Alliance, CTIA – The Wireless Association, Information Technology Industry Council, Internet Security Alliance, National Cable & Telecommunications Association, National Defense Industrial Association, TechAmerica and United States Chamber of Commerce, in addition to individual major telecommunications and information technology companies like AT&T, Facebook, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle Corporation, Symantec, and Verizon

    A deleted metafilter post too..

  6. BLiP 6

    Its interesting how this exploitation of private information is being marketed to us saps. There’s already a catchy new term for the data capture – “Life Management Platforms”. Users are being told how useful it will be for *them* to have all their personal information consolidated rather than stored in several non-compatable and “inconvenient” silos scattered about the internet.

    Heh! Useful for the users!! I guess if you’re gonna tell a lie, tell a big one. But, yeah, looks like game over for the dozing majority, hipster GenZs, and others who have forgotten how to use a diary and filing cabinet.

    • aerobubble 6.1

      I like the silo idea but I don’t have any place to plug a usb drive into someones always live server. The data would remain mine, the physical drive would be my property, anyone with a copy would be breaching my copyright, I would encrypt it and have a backup where. But this shockingly easy way to store data online is denied to me by the big corporates who want to snag it all.

  7. Bill 7

    Google already basically does what the post describes. (Tailors searches to the users supposed preferences) So, if you tend to use the web for political stuff and search “Egypt”, the uppermost hits will be to do with ‘the Arab Spring’ etc. But if you don’t use the web to find political info and execute the very same search, you’ll get a lot of holiday stuff…or whatever.

    There was an critical article done on this a wee while back somewhere. I guess it could be termed self reinforcing ghettoisation.

    • Vicky32 7.1

      There was an critical article done on this a wee while back somewhere. I guess it could be termed self reinforcing ghettoisation.

      Lovely thing Google! I always used to have it default to America, and had to beg for “pages from New Zealand” until I changed it changed my interface to Italian because my Gmail language is and always has been Italian. Now the first link (whatever I ask) is in Italian – then comes America…
      I always go to the nth page of results, unless it’s something purely factual such as ‘define apotropaic’ (one of yesterday’s queries.)

  8. Macro 8

    From 2009 every time you google. Google collects 57 “signatures” about you.
    As you rightly point out – this dumbing down is a BAD idea.

  9. The Baron 9

    The market can and does provide alternatives for those wishing to escape such “innovations” – its one of the many fabulous things about a market mechanism 😉

    For those concerned, I recommend DuckDuckGo – specifically designed not to do anything of the sort: http://duckduckgo.com/ – follow the link at the bottom of their main page to learn more about “bubbling” and why they don’t do it.

    • framu 9.1

      use duckduckgo myself a few times – quite like it.

    • Cin77 9.2

      Hey I just tried DuckDuckGo, thanks for the suggestion. I like it a lot more than google, no horrible paid ads trying to sell me stuff when all I’m looking for is a nice flower to grow in a shady spot of the garden.

  10. swimmer 10

    The first thing that strikes me is that Microsoft would access our FBs and Twitter? Aren’t our “privacy” settings going to protect us from this kind of cyberscrutiny? @Bill, I agree with you, it is ghettoisation! It is also stalking! I don’t think anyone wants a cyberfootprint that is that widespread.

  11. Reality Bytes 11

    My mood is ALWAYS the: I hope this dumb fucking search engine surprises me and gives a halfway decent set of results, sort of mood.

  12. Oscar 12


    Climate Change Deniers – Wrong.

    No one denies that the climate is changing (except for maybe global warmists) but some of us simply believe that more CO2 provides a cooling effect. Feedback loops are still little understood, and moreso the role that Sol plays in the heating of Earth. Sol is currently the coolest it’s been in a long time and we’re seeing a vast majority of recent earthquakes and eruptions now than we have in the early years.

    Monitoring stations haven’t really changed much once they’re sited. The internet has changed the availability of volcanoes to view, but in many cases we’ve got eruptions where there haven’t been any in ten years.

    Whats the effect on Earth of 1 year of continuous volcano eruptions a decade later? We’re living through it now with our “great” scientific knowledge. 1998 was the last time the mercury stopped rising on the global temperature. With no new warming in 14 years, perhaps it’s time to revisit what we knew about CO2 and its effects on feedback loops?

    Please don’t cite Venus as a perfect example of what will happen if we have too much CO2. It’s 50 million kms closer to the sun so we can’t realistically compare the magnitude of the suns heat over that distance with the thickness of the CO2 field.

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