I loved this article from Andrew Phelp about an MIT student writing software that can highlight false claims in articles, just like spell check.
What do you think of living in a word without lies? Where every fact could be proved true or faulse in seconds? Well, I’m going a little bit ahead. For now, Dan Schultz, an MIT student, in partnership with PolitiFact, wants to develop an API that will allow to check the written facts against the information gathered in their PolitiFact database. The advances in the field of Natural Language Processing (NLP) are allowing amazing applications!
[…] Dan Schultz, a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab (and newly named Knight-Mozilla fellow for 2012), is devoting his thesis to automatic bullshit detection. Schultz is building what he calls truth goggles — not actual magical eyewear, alas, but software that flags suspicious claims in news articles and helps readers determine their truthiness. It’s possible because of a novel arrangement: Schultz struck a deal with fact-checker PolitiFact for access to its private APIs.If you had the truth goggles installed and came across Bachmann’s debate claim, the suspicious sentence might be highlighted. You would see right away that the congresswoman’s pants were on fire. And you could explore the data to discover that Bachmann, in fact, wears some of the more flammable pants in politics.
“I’m very interested in looking at ways to trigger people’s critical abilities so they think a little bit harder about what they’re reading…before adopting it into their worldview,” Schultz told me. It’s not that the truth isn’t out there, he says — it’s that it should be easier to find. He wants to embed critical thinking into news the way we embed photos and video today: “I want to bridge the gap between the corpus of facts and the actual media consumption experience.”
Imagine the possibilities, not just for news consumers but producers. Enhanced spell check for journalists! A suspicious sentence is underlined, offering more factual alternatives. Or maybe Clippy chimes in: “It looks like you’re lying to your readers!” The software could even be extended to email clients to debunk those chain letters from your crazy uncle in Florida.
The project is using natural language processing to verify facts, via API, against the information contained in PolitiFact. That is to say that it’s not able to tell a lie from the truth on its own, but rather it does so by pulling in data on phrases that are in a system. Sometime next year, when the project is finished, Schultz plans to open-source it and then the abilities should grow.