Sunday 2 February 2014

All you zombies: Google autocomplete more insulting than Anton Casey?

Singaporeans are idiots.

Singaporeans are lazy losers.

Singaporeans are most disgusting and irritating.

Singaporeans are retarded and ugly.

Wait, before you call my son mentally disabled and my ex-beauty queen wife a tranny, I’m not the one saying all those insulting things about Singaporeans.

It’s Google’s autocomplete function.

Last week, I was intrigued by a map tweeted by @Amazing_Maps of the 50 states of America showing the Google autocomplete results for “Why is [state] so…”

For example, if you type in the Google search box, “Why is California so”, a list would appear, offering a few suggestions for how you might complete your query, the first of which is “Why is California so expensive”.

The map shows that many Google users also asked why New York is so expensive.

Curiously, for two US states, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, the top suggested query is why they are so “haunted”.

Just for fun, I decided to Google “Why Singapore is so” and see what I’d get.

The first suggestion is:

• Why is Singapore so rich

It seems that Google users may have confused Singapore with Mr Anton Casey. But it jibes with the next two suggestions.

• Why is Singapore so expensive

• Why is Singapore so successful

Obviously, Singapore is so successful because we’re so rich. Duh!

And Singapore is so expensive because we can afford expensive stuff because we’re so rich because we’re successful. Double duh!

The fourth suggestion is also flattering.

• Why is Singapore so clean

Clearly, whoever asked this question hasn’t seen the part of Singapore that is my kitchen bathroom.

The last suggestion has to do with our climate.

• Why is Singapore so hot

It’s also possible the word “hot” could be used here to mean “sexy” as in “Why does Singapore have so many hot babes and hunks?”

I can only say I work out.

But not content with the five suggestions, I decided to add the letter “a” to my query, as in “Why is Singapore so a”.

The top suggestion is:

• Why is Singapore so awesome

“Awesome”? Really?

I mean, unlike Miss Stephanie Koh, I'm semi-proud to be Singaporean, but even I would never describe Singapore as “awesome”.

I suspect this question was asked ironically. Can a search engine be capable of sarcasm?

Moving on to the next letter in the alphabet, I replaced “a” with “b” and got this:

• Why is Singapore so boring

That’s more like it. That’s the kind of question people like Miss Koh would ask.

I went through the rest of the alphabet and here some of the less boring suggestions:

• Why is Singapore English so bad

• Why is K-pop so popular in Singapore

• Why is Singapore so racist

• Why is Zara so expensive in Singapore

I assume Zara refers to the clothing store and not a specific woman.

Otherwise, who is this Zara and why does she seem to cost more in Singapore? Oh, I forgot. Because Singapore is so rich.

I was hooked and experimented with other Google queries.

Instead of “Why is Singapore so”, I typed “Singapore is”, followed by a different letter from “a” to “z”.

I learnt that Singapore is better than Malaysia, Hong Kong and Australia.

Yet Singapore is evil and doomed.

Yet Singapore is a good place to work.

Yet Singapore is hell and horrible.

Yet Singapore may be utopia.

On the other hand, Singapore is also overrated.

But most of all, Singapore is gay and weird.

Then I Googled “Singaporeans are” and that’s when the Google autocomplete suggestions turned into Anton Casey.

According to Google, Singaporeans are arrogant, angry, brainwashed, bad drivers, childish, cowards, champion gamblers, dogs, elitist, fed up with progress, getting fatter, grossly underinsured, greedy, hard to please in bed, hypocrites, ignorant, judgemental, kiasu, lame, materialistic, not gracious, poor, politically apathetic, pathetic, rude, robots, selfish, too dependent on domestic helpers, unfriendly, weak, whiners, xenophobic and zombies.

Yes, zombies. Not vampires or werewolves, but zombies.

Before Tay Ping Hui calls Google a half-wit and asks the US company to leave zombieland, I should point out that Google also says Singaporeans are becoming more health-conscious, environmentally-conscious, friendly, fashionable, gracious, happy, kind, living longer, mostly not racist, open-minded, family-oriented, pragmatic, quick to help foreign victims, smart, tech-savvy and not xenophobic.

But still zombies.

I remind myself that this is not what Google says we are, but what millions of Google users around the world say we are.

And that is millions of different points of view represented in the Google autocomplete function.

To put things in perspective, these millions of Google users also say Malaysians are rude, lazy idiots.

So perhaps the problem is not with Singaporeans or Malaysians. It’s the millions of Google users who are rude, lazy idiots.

The irony is that these millions of Google users are made up of people like you and me.

So we are the rude, lazy idiots.

Dammit! Why couldn’t Singapore be haunted like Connecticut and Pennsylvania?

We already have the zombies.

I may start using Bing.

- Published in The New Paper, 2 February 2014

EARLIER: How taxis are turning us into zombies after midnight