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31Jan 2013

The Truth Teller: Can software do real-time, automated fact-checking?

The Washington Post  is fiddling with a potentially game-changing piece of software that promises to fact-check political speeches and other public statements in real time automatically, with no help from fallible human fact-checkers.

The key word here is "promise." Called Truth Teller, the gadget has a long way to go before it fulfills that promise, if these demos are any indication.

Before I go any further, I should note that I have enough conflicts-of-interest in the writing of this item that I should probably kill this post and go home. According to the Knight Digital Media Center at the University of Southern California (Knight supports the Tracker), Truth Teller was developed with a Knight News Prototype Grant (ugh, Knight again). And the Post's collaborator on the project was Dan Schultz, creater of the Truth Goggles Project at MIT (where the Tracker lives).

If I say anything bad about the Truth Teller, I could be fired, Knight could send us packing, and MIT might take over our office and fill it with surplus truth goggles. On the other hand, if I say anything good about the Truth Teller, you probably won't believe me.

Take a look at the demos, and decide for yourself. It could be a wonderful thing. But what about those cases in which a politician expresses certainty about, say, climate change, when the truth is murky. Will the Truth Teller be able to say "I don't know"?

-Paul Raeburn

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