Jun 202012

Search engine intelligence surprisingly accurate

Q. When are search engines prophetic?

A. When you start typing the first letters into the browser’s search box and it races ahead to guess your query, probably based on what others in your region have searched for, says Swapnajit Mitra in “IEEE Spectrum” magazine, who ran ABC tests on Google and Microsoft’s Bing, the two most popular engines.

“The results can be surprisingly accurate or amusingly off-base,” depending on the search engine used, she said. “But together Google and Bing offer a snapshot of the world’s 536.6 million English-language-using Internet searchers.”

Some interesting Mitra findings: Of the initial letters of the alphabet, 11 were the same for both engines, including C (Craigslist), F (Facebook), G (Google), N (Netflix), T (Target) and Y (Yahoo). Also, 21 (81 percent) of Google’s suggestions were names of organizations and products, while Bing’s total was 24 (about 92 percent).

“And it seems search engines don’t like people very much: Google’s list shows only two, known mostly for their notoriety. Recently Osama bin Laden and musical flash-in-the-pan Rebecca Black shared this rare honor (and she was soon gone). Bing’s list is person-free.”

Q. What’s one of the more unusual ways that armor of medieval knights may have influenced the course of history? A. When scientists at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom used treadmills to test subjects wearing replicated medieval armor, its weight lessened mobility and triggered fast, shallow breathing, resulting in muscles getting less oxygen, reports “ScienceIllustrated.Com” magazine. “Researchers think that the heavy armor caused the larger and better-equipped French army to lose to the English in the Battle of Agincourt on Oct. 25, 1415. The French forces had to struggle through mud en route to the battleground, which exhausted them, and the English overcame them easily.”

Q. Who might well be our culture’s “lip-readers supreme”?

A. Six-month-old infants as they begin to babble shift from focusing on adults’ eyes to paying special attention to their mouths, trying to match up what they hear with how it’s said, according to Florida Atlantic University psychologist David Lewkowicz, as reported by Bruce Bower in “Science News” magazine. Later, budding talkers reconcentrate on the eyes, looking for communication signals there (the online “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”).

Lewkowicz and colleagues tested 179 infants from English-speaking families, at age 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 months, using special devices to track the eyes of babies shown videos of women speaking English or a foreign-language such as Spanish.

Send questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@cs.com.

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