Google takes down incorrect AI answer that says Obama was first Muslim US president

New AI Overview summaries at the top of search results has mixed reception in US

Google has introduced AI-generated answers to online queries, marking one of the biggest ever changes to its search engine in 25 years. AFP
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Google on Friday said that it had taken down an incorrect answer provided by a new artificial intelligence feature that stated Barack Obama was the first Muslim US president.

The answer in the “AI Overview” summary on the search engine showed up when users asked “how many Muslim presidents has the US had?”

The issue was highlighted by users on X and replicated by The National.

“This particular overview violated our policies, and we’ve taken it down,” a Google representative told The National in an email.

The new “AI Overview” did, however, correctly show that the US has not had a Muslim president when The National entered the same query without a question mark.

Mr Obama, the 44th US president, is not Muslim and practises Christianity. Racist right-wing conspiracy theorists have for years alleged he secretly practised Islam.

Google last week announced it would unveil its AI-generated summarised search results, AI Overview, in the US following a testing period in the UK.

“The vast majority of AI Overviews provide high-quality information, with links to dig deeper on the web,” the Google representative said.

“We conducted extensive testing before launching this new experience, and as with other features we've launched in Search.”

The summaries by generative AI are created and customised by a machine learning model that bases its information from sources already on the internet and from Google's Knowledge Graph, a collection of relevant information assigned to specific keywords and topics for its search engine results.

The incorrect AI Overview search result showing Mr Obama was the first US Muslim president used as its source an Oxford University Press-published book chapter titled “Barack Hussein Obama: America's First Muslim President?”

It also referenced a Wikipedia page on religious affiliations of US presidents, which mentions the conspiracy theory that Mr Obama is Muslim.

The new generative AI summaries are now showing up at the top of the page – above “featured snippets”, “sponsored” advertisements and relevant web results – after a user enters a query or searches keywords.

Social media users in the US posted several other shocking or incorrect AI Overview results suggesting, for example, that geologists say humans should eat a rock a day as well as articles saying that putting glue on pizza can make cheese stick better.

The Google representative said that these examples are “uncommon queries” and claimed some shared online “were doctored” experiences that it could not replicate.

“We're taking swift action where appropriate under our content policies, and using these examples to develop broader improvements to our systems, some of which have already started to roll out,” the representative added.

Google said it is constantly launching thousands of improvements for its search engine each year, as well as patching such inaccuracies or issues that arise.

The company also has an evaluation process and testing system to make sure that its AI Overview results meet quality and safety standards.

Updated: May 24, 2024, 9:28 PM