Remember when Mitt Romney declared during the first Presidential debate, “I will not, under any circumstances, raise taxes on middle-income families?” Later, in the same debate, he stated that “pre-existing conditions are covered under my [health care] plan.”
Didn’t you want to jump up and scream “liar” at him? Especially since neither President Obama nor Jim Lehrer seemed willing to challenge Romney on anything.
Until now, we’ve relied on some excellent sites such as Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org, the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly’s PolitiFact and the Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog to examine outrageous claims and let us know, after the fact, that our politicians were lying, or bending the truth.
Now the Washington Post’s “Truth Teller” will denounce those lies in as close to real time as possible. Built by the Post with funding from Knight Foundation’s Prototype Fund, Truth Teller is a prototype of a news application, created in just three months.
Truth Teller is a fully automated fact-checking program that displays “TRUE” or “FALSE” in real time next to video of politicians and pundits as they speak.
Check out a demonstration:
How does the program work?
From The Knight Foundation:
We’ve combined video and audio extraction with a speech-to-text technology to search a database of facts and fact checks. The Post also worked with Dan Schultz, creator of Truth Goggles, as he helped consult and shared his knowledge of real-time fact checking. We are effectively taking in video, converting the audio to text, matching that text to our database, and then displaying, in real time, what’s true and what’s false. The key to the project’s success is building an authoritative database – our goal is to identify falsehoods, not create more of them.
As of now, this is just the beginning: the program is only a prototype and is limited to topics it’s been designed to recognize. Also, in some areas it has to be manually fed facts.
The Knight Foundation explains how it will be developed:
For the prototype, we focused on the coming debate over tax reform, both because of its timing and importance. The tax debate will play out over several months and naturally lends itself to deceit and deception – even more so than many policy discussions. We hope that our application will help direct the conversation toward the truth as it is happening so that Americans get a fair shot at deciding this critical issue.
The Washington Post‘s eventual plan is for Truth Teller to be available everywhere on the internet: citizens would be able to use their smartphones to fact-check politicians as they speak. Imagine how empowering it would be challenge a politician on the spot, after you used your amazing new Truth Teller app!
Are there any downsides?
I recall years ago meeting some American tourists in London who swore that President Nixon was innocent. This was in the 80s, long after his downfall and exit from the White House. Sadly, the reality is that some people will always stick to blatant lies, regardless of information that proves them definitively wrong.
Last week, Mother Jones reported “The More Republicans Know About Politics, The More They Believe In Conspiracy Theories.” We’d love to believe that the truth sets us free, but human psychology gets in the way sometimes.
So Truth Teller won’t be 100 percent successful.
There’s another issue: a “fact” may be declared “true” by this program, but may in reality be only a half-truth. For example, politicians including President Obama often declare that drones kill terrorists. Truth Teller would not call that a lie, but the reality is that plenty of other facts about drone warfare are omitted.
Nevertheless, this project fulfills one of the most critical missions of all journalists: to inform and educate the public, regardless of political affiliation.
I count this as a very important step forward, if we are closer to the possibility of no politician ever being to get away with spreading lies.
What do you think?
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Photo Credit: screenshot from vimeo video