The Best Defense Against Fake News in Social Media

By now most of you know that the last presidential election had more to do with Russia and Facebook than pure voter preferences. Many of those who might have been inclined to vote for Clinton were discouraged from voting. Trump was cast in a more attractive light, and those who were impressed by him were motivated to vote. The biggest irony is that Trump has been outspoken against fake news, even though he likely is one of the biggest single sources of it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m kind of glad he is president, because unless this fake news problem is fixed, the U.S. could be on a path toward eliminating democracy altogether and eventually becoming a Russian or Chinese State. Very often when the president speaks, many of us in tech are reminded that we need a universal unbiased tool to help us identify and disregard false information before we make a bad decision based on it.
The problem with fake news is that it is getting worse over time. We have always had issues with politicians and con artists trying to convince us down is up and to get us to do things that, were we informed, we’d never do. I now get what seems like at least one daily phone call from someone pretending to be from the IRS, U.S. Treasury (just got one of those a few minutes ago), FBI, or some other government agency telling me I’m going to jail if I don’t send money. Fortunately, a huge clue is that these agencies don’t call you on the phone to ask for money. However, I’ve noticed the scammers have stopped using low-quality offshore labor and started using ever-better robotic voice systems that sound far more convincing. (I’m still not sending them any money). I can see how the technology has been advancing, and it won’t be long until these criminals will be using artificial intelligence tied to information they have bought from a social network to better take our hard-earned cash from us or change our government. What we need is an equally capable technology that can figure out what is going on and warn us that what we are hearing is false, and that we should get the hell off the phone.
Project Debater from IBM is a showcase of exactly what is needed, but at scale. It can listen to an argument and provide a fact-based counter to it real time. It actually won the debate against a professional debater without being connected to the Internet. In production, it wouldn’t have that limitation. It could be that killer application every company desires to have. One potential application would allow it to monitor electronically what you hear and say, while providing real time advice on what to do. For instance, let’s say you were having a political argument with your sibling, who made a questionable claim. The service would promptly notify you it was false and explain why. Anyone with this tool at a political event could, in real time, point out that the politician on stage was full of crap. This tool would be very helpful in litigation. With litigation, much of the cost typically is tied to one side or the other being unreasonable. I’ve been involved with several lawsuits in which I was on the prevailing side, but my award was a fraction of the total legal fees. Both sides would have saved a ton of money had we both looked at the cases realistically.
This sounds like a pretty amazing future, but it doesn’t come without risk. Given the power that these AIs likely will have and our eventual dependence on them, we’d likely be even more screwed than we are now if one were compromised. This is a valid concern, because they’ll effectively have massive influence on what we buy, who we vote for, and pretty much every decision we make. Finally, they are decent for when I’m working out on a treadmill away from home.

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