Error Message: Google Research Director Peter Norvig on Being Wrong
Google, the company, entered this world in 1998. I'm not sure how long it took for "Google," the verb, to follow, but I do know that millions of people engage in that particular activity many, many times per day. For half of all Internet users worldwide, Google is the portal to the collected and digitized wisdom (and folly) of humanity. Google's search engine has changed how we conduct research, plan vacations, resolve arguments, find old acquaintances, and check out potential mates. It's also given us new ways to interact with maps, mail, books, news, and documents, radically reshaping the way we think about almost every imaginable medium.
Peter Norvig, the director of research at Google, has been involved in this project since its toddlerhood. Norvig joined the company in 2001 and, from 2002 to 2005, served as its director of search quality—a position that put him charge of the company's core Web search algorithms. He and I spoke about (among other things) how engineers think about error, what's good about failing fast, and why Google buys cheap computers. You can read the whole interview over at Slate, temporary home to this blog.
Okay, maybe you don’t have strong beliefs about the “right” way to load a dishwasher, or about your sweetheart’s propensity to do it “wrong.” In that case, either you are unusually saintly or (like me) you don’t own a dishwasher. But you almost certainly get involved in domestic disputes about who’s right and who’s wrong all the time; we all do. Although interpersonal arguments can have a number of causes – from serious and painful breaches in trust to the fact that we haven’t had our coffee yet – an impressive number of them amount to a tug-of-war over who possesses the truth. We fight over the right to be right.