Search Engines and the Epistemology of Relevance

Projekt: Forskning

Populärvetenskaplig beskrivning

The project examines the main mechanisms and principles behind Google and related search engines from an epistemological perspective. One study concerns the justification of the underlying algorithm as an expression of collective wisdom. The second study focuses on issues concerning the information quality of search results.

The overall goal is to contribute to the understanding of search engines and their role in the knowledge society.

We will carry out two studies, focusing on the main mechanisms and principles behind Google and related search engines. The ranking algorithm asks webmasters and users of social media to “vote” on which other pages are most worthwhile by including links to those pages. Roughly, pages that get more votes appear high up on the search result page. The Google founders motivate these ideas by reference to the wisdom of crowds. In the study, a comparison will be made between the conditions under which a search engine is operating and the conditions under which it has been shown, in mathematical studies, that wisdom of crowds reasoning is reliable, starting with early work by Nicholas de Condorcet.

The second study deals with the justification of Google web search from the point of view of the information quality (IQ) of highly ranked pages. Is the search mechanism biased towards any particular aspect of IQ or is it likely to give all four aspects equal weight? Whatever the answer to that question is, we may continue asking whether that answer is desirable. A working hypothesis is that the ranking algorithm is biased towards contextual and representational IQ, rather than towards intrinsic IQ (truthfulness). For example, Google-style search will tend to rank highly pages that are presented in a way that can be easily understood by the general public.
Effective start/end date2013/01/012017/12/31