Is Hummingbird Making the World More Polarized?

Contributed by: Hiren Chandaria

Today, the world is more polarized than probably any other period after the Second World War. We are left with three kinds of people in the world today, those ‘for’, those ‘against’ and those who don’t care.

It is extremely difficult to find the fourth type – those who are confused or admit that they don’t know. Hardly anyone says “I know that I know nothing” – Socratic paradox. I believe the reason is not that people are intentionally trying to have a know- it- all attitude.

To explain my point of view, let me give you a small example. A small kid believes that only his religion is right and there is only one God and that God is of his religion. He is surrounded by people who are preaching the same thing to him. Not even once has he got an opportunity to envisage a healthy debate questioning his beliefs. Do you think the kid will question his own beliefs?

Today, we are bombarded with information over the internet. What we read /search/ watch is saved in the Google algorithm. The next article we are likely to see will be a logical extension of what we watch and have bias towards it.

If you watch a few videos on president Trump as a savior of America – the algorithm will bombard you with many more videos on the same theme. Again, today, the media is very biased -the kind of news channel you watch will help determine the political bias. The algorithm again saves the source of information and keeps strengthening your bias. Let me call this a “Confirmation spiral”.

You may be wondering what does all this have to do with Hummingbird. Google Hummingbird is a search algorithm used by Google. Unlike traditional search engines that focus only on word match, Hummingbird also judges context—thereby judging the intent of a person carrying out a search, to determine what they are trying to find out. This concept is called semantic search.

Because of our dependency on the internet and this confirmation spiral, we have built strong opinions about the world, like the kid in the example who lacked exposure.

This reminds me of a historical speech by president George Bush after 9/11 stating that “Either you are with us or against us” in the war against terrorism, leaving no scope for neutrality.

The moment we get influenced by confirmation spiral, we unconsciously start building walls or echo chambers around us. We start feeling more comfortable socializing with people who agree to our views. A simple exercise that we can do to find if we are trapped in the confirmation spiral would be to check the tweets we like, check the views of those whom we respect, check our Facebook posts etc.

The idea of this article is not to blame anyone. At no point, I intend to belittle the excellent work Google is doing and making life easier for you, me and everybody. But this article intends to make us aware that we may be biased in our opinion. The opposing view may have many merits and should be heard – if not respected –  for its perspective.

Like in behavioral finance, the mere realization of a bias can help mellow down our hardliner views, build respect for others’ opinion and result in healthier debate. This realization may help us to avoid hatred, if not war. So, let’s not get trapped in the confirmation spiral and not be extra judgmental.


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