India’s ‘Ugliest’ Language? Google Had an Answer (and Drew a Backlash).

It was an odd, unanswerable query. Still, it was on the thoughts of at the very least one Google person in India.

What is the nation’s “ugliest” language?

For anybody who typed the query into the platform’s search bar not too long ago, its algorithm produced a truth field assured of the reply: a tongue known as Kannada, spoken by tens of hundreds of thousands of individuals in India’s south.

Informed of that outcome, a lot of them weren’t blissful.

Several politicians within the state of Karnataka, the place most Kannada audio system stay, went on social media this week to register their outrage.

“Legal action will be taken against @Google for maligning the image of our beautiful language!” Aravind Limbavali, Karnataka’s forestry minister and a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political celebration, mentioned in a tweet on Wednesday.

Google apologized on Thursday for “the misunderstanding and hurting any sentiments.” It additionally deleted the very fact field about Kannada.

But its fake pas — and the response from Mr. Limbavali and different members of the state’s conservative political brass — had already been picked up by main Indian information shops. By Friday, the highest outcomes for the search “What’s the world’s ugliest language?” had been articles about Google’s apology for having answered it.

The episode illustrates the fallibility of the very fact containers, a operate that Google created seven years in the past. The containers, referred to as “featured snippets,” include info that the corporate’s algorithms pull from third-party sources. They seem above the hyperlinks that often pop up in Google search outcomes.

The firm has mentioned that featured snippets work effectively, based mostly on utilization statistics and evaluations from individuals paid to guage the standard of its search engine’s outcomes. But it additionally admits that they often get the information improper — or stray into the realm of opinion.

“Search isn’t always perfect,” Google India mentioned in its apology on Thursday. “Sometimes, the way content is described on the internet can yield surprising results to specific queries.”

That’s placing it mildly.

Earlier this 12 months, a seek for why Google was banned from China returned a truth field — garnered from a nationalist state-run tabloid, The Global Times — noting that Google had left the nation of its personal accord after deciding that Chinese legal guidelines didn’t “conform with its so-called democratic values.”

The field made no point out of a cyberattack that the corporate had cited as an fast purpose to cease working its search engine in China. Nor did it point out that almost all Google companies are broadly blocked from China’s web.

Google can also be unreliable on the query of whether or not it’s a dependable supply of knowledge.

The search “Does Google lie to you?” produces a truth field with this reply: “Google does not give answers (sic) to questions and therefore it does not lie.”

That is from an article within the newspaper The Australian that quoted a businessman who accused the corporate of stealing content material and placing it up straight on its website. The quote was used within the article as a sarcastic reference to the primary outcome for the search question “Does Google ever lie?”

Kannada, the language that Google’s truth field mentioned was India’s ugliest, is a part of a household of Dravidian languages which might be native to southern India and return 1000’s of years.

The snafu this week was not the primary time that Kannada audio system have mentioned that their language was disrespected.

Karnataka impressed lots of the novels and quick tales by RK Narayan, one in all India’s most well-known novelists. A preferred 1980s tv adaptation of his work was made in Hindi, the nation’s commonest language, with Kannada subtitles. Even although Mr. Narayan wrote in English, some critics mentioned the difference ought to have been made in Kannada, or at the very least dubbed into it.

“It could very well have been dubbed when it was made,” the critic Prathibha Nandakumar wrote in 2012. “Why was that not thought of?”

Google has no truth field for that.