I don’t normally have much sympathy for the likes of Facebook, but I did think they were in a ‘damned if they do, damned if they don’t’ position last week when there was that fuss about them banning The Terror of War.
Their algorithm for picking up on and prohibiting the publishing of photos containing child nudity couldn’t tell the difference between the perverse and this iconic image of children running from a napalm attack in Vietnam because one of them happened to be naked.
The problem with algorithms, of course, is that they have no discernment – the computer clockwork clicks away and a photo either ticks the parameter boxes or it doesn’t. And if some unsavoury image slipped through the net, there would be hell to pay.
Facebook is big enough and ugly enough to defend itself, but I was reminded of the algorithm problem by the photo above. It’s of the subject of a future ABC Wednesday post and I was struggling to find appropriate images, so I turned to ‘search Google with this images’. It didn’t turn up anything, but its offering of ‘visually similar images’ was an eye-opener of how random algorithms can be.
Among the many, many people that Google thought it might be were Marilyn Monroe, Helen Keller and Marie Curie which I suppose might be considered flattering. But there was more.
Also on the page were images of Harvey Milk, Liam Neeson, Che Guevara, David Bowie, Adolf Hitler, Harold Wilson and a young Barack Obama. None of which I would consider ‘visually similar’, but perhaps that’s just me.