Worried Google Is Getting Too Smart? Try Searching "Henry VIII Wives"

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Sept. 23 2013 7:08 PM

Worried Google Is Getting Too Smart? Try Searching "Henry VIII Wives"

Google is getting pretty clever these days. Increasingly, when you enter a common search term on the site, it's so confident that it knows what you have in mind that it gives you its own answer before it even lists any search results. As my former colleague Farhad Manjoo has explained, this all part of the company's grand plan to build the Star Trek Computer—a great, all-knowing machine that can understand and answer any question you might have instantaneously, or perhaps even before you've thought to ask it. Asking "What time is the Super Bowl" used to take you to a cleverly search-engine-optimized Huffington Post story. Last year, however, Google simply began answering the question directly. Likewise, Googling your favorite pro sports team's roster now calls up a scrolling list of clickable player names and photos.

That's a product of what Google calls the Knowledge Graph, an immense database of facts about the world that the site can display in response to relevant search queries. This graph is growing all the time. But anyone who fears that Google is on the path to some sort of dystopian omniscience can take a little comfort in knowing that the search engine still stumbles into the occasional embarrassing misunderstanding. Take the search result above, which the writer Michael Moran noticed and posted to Twitter today. One of these wives, you may note upon closer inspection, is not like the others ...

Henry VIII wives Google search result
One of King Henry VIII's spouses apparently benefited from a surprisingly photorealistic portraiture.

Screenshot / Google.com

Just in case that's not quite clear enough, here's a close-up, again courtesy of Google:

Google Jane Seymour

Screenshot / Google.com

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

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