16 thoughts on “Google now guesses at sexual orientation of people

  1. The curious thing is, it seems only to work for (some) very publically confirmed gay celebrities. (None of the names I inputted pulled this up, except for Ellen, Rosie O’Donnell, and George Takei.) So, beyond being a puzzling feature in general, it seems designed to serve…basically no one.

    Huh.

    Though, on the bright side, that does mean it’s not exactly “guessing” for anyone, so far as I can tell. Unless I’m missing something.

  2. The choice of the word “guess” is indeed unfortunate. Would the feature be just as objectionable if Google made its function more explicit: i.e. merely as a collation of information from common sources? That is — should we object merely to the idea that Google is *guessing* people’s sexual orientation, or also to the fact that it is collating such information at all?

    In general, I assume the goal of the feature is to cut out a step for the user — so when I type in “What is the population of England?”, Google says — above the results — “Best guess is 51 million”, and for many users that will be enough information to end their search without any further clicks.

  3. They don’t guess at whether Brad Pitt is gay or not, but they do provide guesses for the height of Ellen Degeneres and for the height of Brad Pitt.

  4. It’s quite possible that gayness is never specifically mentioned in Google’s question-answering algorithm. Rather, it might just collect properties of well-known nouns based on the language it processes in the course of spidering the web.

    I suppose it can’t answer the question for Brad Pitt simply because Mr. Pitt’s sexual orientation isn’t discussed enough for it to seem significant to Google, while Ellen Degeneres is, of course, quite often mentioned in the context of lesbianism. The fact that most straight persons won’t show up is probably due to the same phenomenon that prompts my white acquaintances to always mention the ethnicity of non-white characters in stories but, for whatever reason, never the whites’.

  5. More examples, fwiw:

    Who wrote War and Peace?
    Who won the Best Actor Oscar in 2009?
    What ethnicity is Michael Jackson?
    Is Kate Winslet married?

    Interestingly, it can’t seem to answer other questions I put to it about the Oscars; for example, “Who won the Best Actress Oscar in 2009?” results in no guess, despite its similarity.

  6. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t work for me anymore either.
    It worked for Enrique Iglesias and Justin Bieber before. It got quite some attention on twitter, maybe they made it go away.
    Oh well. glad I got a screenshot.

  7. It seems to work only for big names. A search on Little Richard yielded “bisexual”, but a search on Anderson Cooper (who everyone seems to think is gay…) didn’t yield a guess.

  8. I’m thinking it’s a general question-answering algorithm, rather than a specific function designed to guess celebrities’ sexual preference.

  9. Yes, that’s a question search algorithm If it’s that big an issue, you can change your search settings so that Google doesn’t “finish” your questions. And thus the mystery will remain.

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