Google robots to learn how to be offended as tech giant admits blind spot around extremist content

Steven Swinford
Google has come under fire over advertising next to extremist content  - ERIN LUBIN/Bloomberg 

Google has admitted to a blind spot around extremist content as it revealed it is teaching its computer systems to understand which videos are offensive.

Some of the biggest brands in the US have pulled hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising from Google and YouTube after their brands were promoted next to extremist content.

Google has now admitted that its computers struggle to "understand context" and said it is using its "greatest machine learning abilities" to try to solve the issue.

400 hours of new content are uploaded to YouTube every minute  Credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

In an interview with The New York Times Philipp Schindler, Google's chief business officer, said that the company has been in "emergency mode" over the issue of extremist content.

"We take this as seriously as we've ever taken a problem," he said.

Google is now training its computers to recognise videos which are offensive by analysing them on a frame-by-frame basis and comparing it with descriptions of content.

It said it hoped to teach its computers to understand the context of footage, so that videos which are easily recognised by people as offensive will be flagged by its computers.

Philipp Schindler of Google Credit: Andrew Fox 

Mr Schindler said: "Computers have a much harder time understanding context, and that’s why we’re actually using all of our latest and greatest machine learning abilities now to get a better feel for this."

The company hopes that it's programmed will be able to identify the difference between a movie star waving a gun and an extremist. However, the company said that it will never be able to solve the problem completely as 400 hours of new content are uploaded to YouTube every minute.

"No system can be 100 percent perfect,” he said. “But we’re working as hard as we can to make it as safe as possible.”

More than 250 organisations including the British government, Toyota, Tesco and McDonald’s stopped UK advertising on YouTube it emerged that they were being promoted on videos posted by hate preachers, rape apologists and extremists banned in Britain.

Companies that have withdrawn advertising from Google

Google had changed which videos can carry advertising and given them the power to fine-tune the types of content that they want to approve.

Last week Google and some of the world’s biggest internet companies agreed to create new “technical tools to identify and remove terrorist propaganda” in the wake of the Westminster terrorist attacks.

The companies which also included Facebook and Twitter also agreed to look at "options" for a body “to accelerate” how they take down extremist content. However they were criticised for paying “lip service” to the problem by failing to commit fully to setting up an industry body to tackle the problem.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, summoned executives from Google, Twitter, Facebook and Microsoft to a summit at the Home Office after the Westminster terrorist attacks last week.

After the meeting the companies agreed to “look at all options for structuring a forum to accelerate and strengthen” their work to tackle online extremism. This would “enhance and broaden the current informal collaboration sessions that companies already conduct”.

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