Google chiefs pledge to scour more content as US mid-term elections loom

Google's search engine and its news-aggregation service have been criticised for showing misleading answers and distributing false stories online.
Google's search engine and its news-aggregation service have been criticised for showing misleading answers and distributing false stories online.PHOTO: REUTERS

SAN FRANCISCO (BLOOMBERG) - The chief executive officers of Alphabet Inc.'s Google and YouTube pledged to scour videos and other content more closely for misleading news and inappropriate messages on their web services ahead of elections in the US later this year.

"We have more elections coming, so we're all working harder," Google CEO Sundar Pichai said during an interview at an event in San Francisco on Friday (Jan 19) hosted by MSNBC and Recode. "We feel a huge sense of responsibility."

Later this year, mid-term elections will determine which party runs Congress, now controlled by Republicans.

YouTube chief Susan Wojcicki said the online video service is trying to hire as many employees as possible to scrutinise videos in tandem with computers running artificial-intelligence software to identify and quickly remove offensive and inaccurate material.

"It has to be humans and you need to have those machines," she said.

Google's search engine and its news-aggregation service have been criticised for showing misleading answers and distributing false stories online.

Meanwhile, YouTube is facing one of the worst crises in its roughly 18-year existence after advertisers found their marketing messages running alongside extremist and offensive videos.

YouTube has also been swept up in investigations into whether Russia used social media to influence the 2016 presidential election.

"All of us are obviously very upset that somebody could have influenced the election," Pichai said. However, he warned that it's difficult for such a large company to decide what is true or false.

"Drawing the line is becoming increasingly hard," he said. "We're a global company. We operate in many countries. People disagree."

Still, Pichai said extra scrutiny of technology companies is important to maintain trust. "We all need to be careful," he added. "We don't want people to reject technology. Technology is the source of progress."

Artificial intelligence is the most important technology, and the source of much anxiety about how work and broader human society will change, the CEO added.

"It's fair to be worried about AI," Pichai said. "I don't think any single company should control it."

Pichai noted that his cousin is training to be a radiologist, a job that AI is already beginning to automate. "This is going to make her job much easier. She'll get to spend more time with patients," he said.

The CEO has been promoting new ways to train the technology workers of tomorrow. Last year, Google committed US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion) in grants and employee-volunteer hours over five years to use technology for education, economic opportunity and inclusion.

Earlier this week, Google unveiled a new online education programme to certify people for work in information technology support - positions with solid pay that don't require full software coding skills.

"It's a new job category that didn't exist before," Pichai said on Friday. "Over time, the nature of work will change."