Computers Are Dumb

One of the things that dear Mrs. Preuss emphasized in my first ever computer class back in high school, is that computers are dumb. Though they may seem intelligent, that intelligence comes from what is fed into them. They live by the old saying, “Garbage In, Garbage Out.”

Well, that was more than two decades ago, and computing has advanced incredibly far, but the old adage still remains; garbage in still equals garbage out. I noticed a case in point, as I reviewed a student’s video assignment; a mini documentary. The video was a really cute description of bullying by two young girls. However, notice that most of the related videos recommended by YouTube are about school and homework and little about bullying is shown. How could this happen?


The title of the video is “BullyInterview.” I can see where a computer technology student might come up with a title like that. We encourage our students to keep the spaces out of file names for the benefit of web servers, and writing computer programs that must access external files. However, “BullyInterview” is not a word that a machine can easily parse the actual meaning from, unless it knows it should try to do that.

Another thing to notice is the description at the bottom says “Homework Assignment.” Obviously, YouTube has made a note of that and tried to find other videos related to “Homework Assignment.” But this video really has nothing to do with homework, and everything to do with bullying.

The more we can tell machines about the content we produce, the more the machine is able to help us. This means selecting meaningful titles and descriptions, and metadata tags.

This particular video was the student’s very first post to YouTube, so I will grant some leeway on this. But I thought this example could stimulate some discussion on what it means to feed the machine the information it needs to give us back good information.

I’m sure, as cute and informative as the video is, with a little better SEO (search engine optimization), it could get many more than the current 18 views.



One thought on “Computers Are Dumb

  1. Bill,
    I have often heard that phrase uttered by computer class teachers, “garbage in garbage out.” I never gave it much thought, but you make a great point. As a student in EDM 310 class at The University of South Alabama, I have been required to submit several videos to Youtube, and I have never thought to actually consider the ramifications of all those little blanks when I submit a video. Im glad I read this post for that reason.
    Josh Adkison

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