The winner of the Google Suggest contest.

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Nov. 10 2009 5:44 PM

Is It Wrong To Sleep With Your Sister?

The winner of the Google Suggest contest.

From all across this great nation (and Canada), entries arrived in my inbox for Slate's Google Suggest contest. The question at hand: What's the best example of "less intelligent" Google query contrasted with a "more intelligent" Google query?

Sorting through the contenders led to more than a few instances of intellectual whiplash. One moment, I'd be considering a stemwinder such as "Why is it thatonly part of the energy stored in one trophic level is passed on to the next level?" and the next moment, I'd be learning about "cake farts."

Without further descent into fetishes, let's go to the top five.

Fifth Place

wher can

vs.

where can

This entry earned points for subtlety. Just dropping the E in where revealed a dedicated community of Erin Andrews peephole seekers. The name of the unfortunate ESPN sideline reporter does not appear in the "where can" list, which also includes the incredible: "where can I read books online."

Fourth Place

deaf leopard
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vs.

def leppard

There really isn't much difference between the results here, but I love the idea that Google is smart enough to know that deaf leopard should take us to the promised land of ripped jeans and laser-light displays.
Third Place

how can i destroy

While technically not a "less intelligent" vs. "more intelligent" entry, "how can I destroy" takes third place for demonstrating the disquieting juxtapositions coughed up by the machine logic of Google Suggest—destroy your jeans or destroy the world. Suggest is like one of your smart, undersocialized friends who blurts relevant yet inappropriate facts at parties.

.

Consider the jolt received by the new parents who wanted to learn "How to defrost breast milk."

how to de

Second Place

can a person

vs.

can a human

This one boggles the mind a bit. I suppose person is a more civil way to refer to ourselves than human, a word that brings out our animalistic side. To be fair, "Can a human outrun a bear" is a great question.

First Place

is it wrong to

vs.

is it ethical to

The winning entry, from Ted Bendixson, follows Google Suggest into the realm of moral inquiry. It doesn't neatly divide into "less intelligent" and "more intelligent," but it's the best example I received of how one word can make all the difference. Wrong involves love affairs, God, and younger men. Ethics puts us on the plane of animal research, privacy concerns, and cooking the books.

So the experiment ends where it began, with astonishment at the range of human experience that finds its way into the search box. We ask Google for directions to Burger King. We ask Google whether it's all right to sleep with our cousin. And Google answers, to the best of its collective knowledge, without smirking.

There is, however, at least one query that Google won't help you with: Type in "I hate," and no suggestions appear.

P.S. Thanks to everyone who entered. The most numerous entries were "Why is my poop green?" and "What are these strawberries doing on my nipples i need them for the fruit salad?"

Michael Agger is an editor at The New Yorker. Follow him on Twitter.

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