Today I took my dog for a walk in the sun. I have been fighting some nausea today so I decided to take a walk with my dog in the fresh air and that always gets me in a creative frame of mind. While walking, I was listening to the new Dream Theater album, The Astonishing, for the umpteenth time. The album is about a dystopian society and today, while also thinking about frustration with the news, a thread of a thought occurred to me. I kept pulling on it until I felt convinced of three things.
- Hackers will be the most reliable source of news in the future, and they will become corporations in their own right for democratizing and monetizing information verification.
- If the government was truly worried about the people’s ability to defend themselves, they would take our computers, not our guns.
- Artificial Intelligence technology, that already exists today, can transform the news, how we apply context from personal to global and everywhere in between, and even politics and how our government works.
So this is a really long rabbit hole, stick with me, I promise it will make sense.
Framing the Problem
I am probably one of the few people who reads four different news sites every day. I don’t do this because I expect different stories. I do this to understand how the stories are spun according to the news corporation’s political leanings. The problem with not doing this, is that your news agency can lead you down the primrose path to misunderstanding without ever legally telling a lie. That’s how Donald Trump becomes a legitimate contender for president, and that’s how the world slumps into dystopia. Thankfully, that is not going to happen.
Getting to the Source
If you have watched or read the news lately, you probably already realize that it has already become almost entirely reliant on social media. This makes sense of course, because the news can get to people faster than they can route it through themselves. This isn’t a problem they can ever solve, so they adapt to use it to replace traditional news wires. That then of course is filtered and editorialized to condition it for the intended spin.
As Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and their many competitors and wish they were competitors meticulously capture every event and serve it to who they think cares about it, there comes one byproduct. In almost all cases, and article can be traced to it’s genesis. Today it would require access to people’s computers, forensic computer science and warrants to pull this off, but as the news moves faster, the digital fingerprint gets clearer. There is still one bottleneck though, humans.
Without considering spin, people are not capable of reading all of the news, and groups of people are not capable of reading the news and applying a consistent interpretation of the news, but computers can. Imagine for a minute a search engine index system similar to what Google or Bing use to determine content’s ability to match what we are searching for, tuned slightly to instead index all of the connections between not just the news, but the actual source material that inspired a blog post or even a tweet. Privacy issues not withstanding, the technology isn’t even remotely futuristic. No part of that scenario isn’t technically possible with today’s software and hardware.
But that’s not it at all. Now imagine that this news search engine was aggregating news stories based on an entirely dynamic dictionary of topics. Using semantic analysis, a computer could meticulously tag content and aggregate those tags at any level: personal, your apartment building, your neighborhood, your city, your county, state, voting region, climate area, time zone, basically any type of dimension that could be inferred by where your connection originated, cookies in your browser, social media accounts you are currently logged into, the language your browser is using, the sky is the limit.
With that type of aggregation ability, a handful of “man my water tastes like shit” tweets can cause our intelligent news software to bubble up a tweet sized news article to people in your city saying, “This morning hundreds of people are complaining about their water quality in Flint Michigan.”
This type of system could detect a food quality issue at a global scale and predict other areas that could have similar issues. Imagine if the news was capable of not being sensationalistic. If Chipotle’s current issue had been caught at several local levels and was able to report it with the appropriate priority in other markets that had been identified by the system that knew where all the stores were located.
But What About That Spin?
Yea, about that. News wouldn’t be able to sell ads if it was just a bunch of dashboards showing numbers, and a line item list of events that should be contextually important to you would make knowing what’s going on in the world be like trying to get to the bottom of your inbox, wouldn’t it?
Of course editorial content is important. Computers can definitely solve a lot of the problems we are facing, but it’s still the creativity of the human mind that can find creative ways to correlate events that have never been correlated before in any way. Editorial content is not going anywhere, but can this type of system help you trust it? Absolutely.
Today, when you log into Amazon.com from your browser, you see that little lock. That means that the browser is dealing with your personal information in a secure manner. That lock is what is supposed to make you trust that site with your data. But what about trusting that site’s data?
This system we are imagining, would have a monetized API Service. Probably monetized on an audience scale so blogs and small businesses could use it also. This API is able to sift it’s incredible database of content and perform it’s algorithms at mind numbing speeds. This part isn’t quite possible with today’s technology, but it’s a problem of horsepower more than software. Imagine that every time you loaded something, the browser of your choice gave you an indication of that content’s alignment with the global understanding of truth. SSL for honesty.
Creating Real Change
Now that we have a way to wade through truth down to the lowest level, and we have a system that can aggregate and validate that instantly, let’s change politics.
Today, politicians have little fear of lying, because nobody fact checks them. Now that our hacker news network has democratized the collection of news, and via open source systems that are open to be scrutinized down to the code level, created a system for calculating an honestly score on content, let’s change politics.
Our API for honesty has made our hacker non-profit one of the wealthiest companies on the planet. With a dogmatic mission to keep the transmission of information honest and audit-able, our fictional group of hackers have decided to launch their own actual news network to compete with all the major news networks.
The only difference to this new network, is that the news content is purely a feed of video clips, like YouTube. They have been curated for you by either your personal preferences, or things that have a potential impact on you based on anything from your location, gender, employer, investments, family’s locations, it’s really an infinite list. With no interest in selling you ads, and an open but public service approach to identity and privacy, the sky is the limit.
What this gets us is this: As you watch a politician speak, or see a celebrity tweet something, it’s being analyzed against a common understanding of the facts in realtime, and appropriate context is being displayed in a meaningful way. Imagine if Donald Trump (my personal political punching bag if I am being transparent) decided to make one of his statements about the number of rapists coming across the border. While you hear him make this statement, the display is showing you actual crime statistics, sliced appropriate to the context of the statement being made. It’s digital liar liar pants on fire. That’s awesome.
I would assume that if politicians knew that any time the public sees them speak they are being reminded of their voting records, statistical expansion of the data they cite, and how their opinions align with the inferred political agendas of the corporations that donate to their campaigns….. they would probably either say nothing, or get a lot more honest.
This Is Just The Beginning
I get that to a lot of people artificial intelligence is scary. There are concerns from all sorts of perspectives, many of which are well founded. That being said, when you look at this current election, there is one fear that strikes me much harder than being concerned that a computer will kill me to save someone else because they are richer.
That fear is based in reality. Anyone who knows me knows that I do not subscribe to conspiracies and have never owned a tin foil hat. Still, the current election is proof that the nation is very much divided, and the actions of our government have proven that disagreement has finally blossomed into gridlock.
If technology existed today, to give you confidence that information was accurate, and clearly point out when it’s not. If we had tools that could make sure that the people that we elect our truly representing our agendas and not their own, we would be fools to be afraid of them.
Fun to think about.