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Google Home couldn’t tell users who Jesus Christ is — here’s why it matters

  • Anger broke out on social media after people created videos showing that Google’s smart speaker, Home, couldn’t answer the question “Who is Jesus Christ?” but could provide answers for Buddha and Muhammad.
  • The company has since barred answers for all prominent religious figures, explaining that certain topics are “more vulnerable to vandalism and spam.”
  • This highlights one of Google’s big problems as it tries to conquer the smart speaker market: How to make sure its algorithms surface correct information with only one answer.

From Franklin Graham: “What will Google do with Jesus? First it was discovered that Google Home’s virtual assistant wasn’t programmed to give answers to inquiries about Jesus Christ, but could provide information about Buddha, Muhammad, and even Satan. That didn’t go over too well! Now Google Home has decided to get rid of religious figures altogether, at least until they figure out how to answer the questions. When you think about it, this is the most important question any person can ever ask. Who is Jesus Christ? He is the Holy Son of God who came to earth in human flesh, was crucified on a cross for our sins, died, buried, and rose to life on the third day. He is alive and reigns at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, and He’s coming back again one day. The Word of God tells us even more about Him. He is Savior, Lord, and Master; He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; He is King of kings and Lord of lords—He’s the only way to Heaven. Who do you say Jesus is”?

From CNBC: A recent Google Home blunder highlights one of the search giant’s next big challenges with its smart speaker device.

Anger broke out on social media Thursday afternoon when people started creating videos that showed that Google’s smart speaker, Home, couldn’t answer the question “Who is Jesus?” but could provide responses for Buddha, Muhammad, and Satan.

People hypothesized that it was “political correctness” or a lack of respect that kept the device from talking about Jesus or God.

Then Google issued a statement on Friday explaining the problem and barring Home from answering questions about other religious figures, too.

Home pulls some of its answers directly from the web and certain topics (like religion) “can be more vulnerable to vandalism and spam,” the company explained via tweet.

Some have noticed the Google Assistant wouldn’t respond for “Who is Jesus.” This wasn’t out of disrespect but to ensure respect. Some Assistant replies come from the web. It might not reply in cases where web content is more vulnerable to vandalism & spam. Our full statement:

(If you ask Home who Jesus Christ or Satan is now, it will respond, “Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning.”)

What’s going on here? The problem lies with Google’s so-called “featured snippets.” Whether or not you have a smart speaker, you’ve likely seen this product in action: Ask a question and Google will often serve up a box at the top of search highlighting what its algorithms have determined to be the best answer.

This answer isn’t always right, however. Christians all over the world want to here the right answer- “Jesus is God!” Or at least tell the story of the birth and resurrection! Why would Jesus not be in there? Yet all the others are??????? The false gods are, but the REAL GOD is not????? Something is not right here!

Featured snippets have turned up a host of highly publicized errors over the years, but the problem is much more pernicious when an objectionable answer comes via voice, where it’s harder to understand the source that Google’s pulling from.

If you’re only going to get one answer, and not a list of links, that answer better be right.

Interestingly, Danny Sullivan, who first highlighted Google’s big issue with featured snippets, now works at the company to help educate people on how search works and look into issues like these.

This underscores one of Google’s big challenges moving forward: Figuring out how to mitigate its bad answers.

As the company pushes Home’s AI and ability to pull from Google’s resources as one of its greatest strengths against Amazon’s competitor, Alexa, the company isn’t likely to stop Home from pulling answers from featured snippets altogether. And after all, the beauty of smart speakers is that they give you a quick reply so you don’t have to get on a phone or a computer to answer a question. Google just needs to get better at vetting its sources and continuing to stop bad actors from messing with results.

To be fair, Google answers questions fairly and correctly far, far more often than it gets things wrong. But the stakes are high, especially when children are increasingly using these devices.

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