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Internet Lie Detector in Development

Spell check pretty much revolutionized writing in a word processor. You used to have to know how to spell things if you wanted to look like you had a brain, now you just have to sound it out, get it close enough, and let the computer do the rest. This is something I freekewntly frequentely frequently do. Now that that’s been done, and grammar checking is about as good as we can expect it to get (not good enough!), where do we go from here? How about a fact checker? That’s what MIT student Dan Schultz is working on: An algorithm that can be used to fact check written articles. An Internet lie detector of sorts.

The project is the product of a few things coming together quite nicely. First, you’ve got the all important natural language processing. Now, more than ever, computers’ ability to parse natural text is increasing at a rapid pace. You’ve got chatbots that are more and more capable of maintaining actual conversations, and things like Siri, which seem to be working passably well and can only get better. This would let such a program go through any block of text and identify the things that are — or claim to be — factual statements as opposed to those that are matters of opinion.

Second of all, Schultz is working in partnership with a great website called PolitiFact. PolitiFact is a site that aggregates statements made by politicians, checks the actual numbers used in their claims, and rates the factuality of said statements on a sliding scale of “liar, liar, pants on fire” to truth. The idea is that Schultz’s program would identify the statements in a written work that are claiming to be facts, and index them with the data on PolitiFact, reporting the results back to the reader.

When the project is done, Shultz intends to make it open source, so it would probably make it into the real world as a user-side plugin of some sort that could be used to get some background on whatever the user is reading. It’s an interesting idea, but it still has a long way to go. For instance, it seems that, for now, the detector would be primarily concerned with political number checking. When it goes open source, I’m sure others will start rigging up other databases.

The other concern I personally have is that the algorithm probably won’t have the capability to detect fallacious reasoning. If you’re up on your logical fallacies, you’ll know that having true premises does not a sound argument make. And in that sense, this kind of software could actually give fallacious arguments more weight if Average Joe just thinks “those facts are true, therefore the conclusion must be sound.” That’s an invalid argument, for those of you out there who are keeping track. On the upside, anyone who’s going to the lengths to use a fact checking plugin probably has an understanding of logic 101.

In any event, if the natural language processing can keep up, this is definitely an interesting endeavor, and I’m extremely heartened that it’s going to be open source. I would love to get my hands on such a plugin. It’s just important that the people who do use something like this realize that it isn’t doing all of their thinking for them, just the annoying fact-checky parts of it. If you use it thinking it can just straight up indicate whether or not things are worth believing, it could actually do more harm than good. Just like spell check, it’d have its failings. Son and sun are not the same word, and spell check still isn’t catching that mistake.

(via The Next Web)

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