Wolfram Alpha: A Bit Racist?

Illustration for article titled Wolfram Alpha: A Bit Racist?

What goes on under the hood at Wolfram Alpha is a mystery to my simple mind, but after seeing the results of this search, I hope whatever it is gets an overhaul quickly. Updated.

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You see, tipster Jon-Paul snagged this screen shot of his search for "dumb" (which I cropped to cut out his desktop, fyi).

I then did a search of my own to dismiss any Photoshopping concerns. The results were the same in each case: Racist synonym trees that associated the word dumb with black.

What the heck, Wolfram?

Update: Ah, a response from Wolfram Alpha on the issue. Seems that, as the synonyms get further and further away from one another, things get more vague (Wolfram Alpha gives a much better explainer than that—check it out).

The Wolfram Alpha blog is asking the community for suggestions on how to make obscure connections like this one more easily understandable for the masses. [Wolfram Alpha - Thanks, John-Paul]

DISCUSSION

I wish to elaborate more here about an observation made earlier. I believe that this search engine is merely revealing associations and attitudes that society, itself, possesses. To blame the search engine for revealing this association is like blaming mirror for what it reflects back to you about your own reality.

This is not unlike a family with a severe disfunction (such as alcoholism or physical or sexual abuse) attacking the member of the family who draws attention to the disfunction. I have been in a similar situation myself, where I pointed out a disfunction to a group I was part of and received considerable vilification. It's human nature to avoid acknowledging something unpleasant and blame those who disrupt our ability to go on pretending that nothing is wrong.