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Could we perhaps use technology to keep and enforce truth in an age of noise?

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efyu_lemonardo

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Over the past year we've all seen a concerning trend which has by now been given an official term, and even chosen by the Oxford English Dictionary as their word of the year: post-truth.

Many of us have been discussing, throughout various threads, possible ways to deal with this trend in a manner that is not just technically feasible, but more importantly democratic and realistic. Most agree our society desparately needs to change the way we handle information and misinformation, but as far as leaving such changes up to humans there doesn't seem to be a lot of optimism currently.

While browsing another thread an interesting idea occured to me, which after some searching I am happy to say has been thought of by more capable people before and is being experimented with around the world. Below is an excerpt from the economist which I think does a good job setting up the general idea and hinting at a possible vision for the future.

If this has already been discussed elsewhere on GAF or online by all means please link here. I'm especially interested in the opinions of more technically-minded gafers.

  • Do you think there is potential to create such a platform - a distributed ledger of facts - based on principles similar to those of the Blockchain?
  • Could such a platform provide the necessary influence to combat the growing trend of intellectual laziness?
  • What system of rewards could be put in place to encourage people to use it?
The following was published a year ago on the economist, I urge anyone who has been thinking about ways to enforce truth in a "post-truth" era to read it. This excerpt hopefully illustrates how this kind of technology could potentially be of service to such a cause.

Blockchains: The great chain of being sure about things
The technology behind bitcoin lets people who do not know or trust each other build a dependable ledger. This has implications far beyond the cryptocurrency

WHEN the Honduran police came to evict her in 2009 Mariana Catalina Izaguirre had lived in her lowly house for three decades. Unlike many of her neighbours in Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital, she even had an official title to the land on which it stood. But the records at the country’s Property Institute showed another person registered as its owner, too—and that person convinced a judge to sign an eviction order. By the time the legal confusion was finally sorted out, Ms Izaguirre’s house had been demolished.

It is the sort of thing that happens every day in places where land registries are badly kept, mismanaged and/or corrupt—which is to say across much of the world. This lack of secure property rights is an endemic source of insecurity and injustice. It also makes it harder to use a house or a piece of land as collateral, stymying investment and job creation.

Such problems seem worlds away from bitcoin, a currency based on clever cryptography which has a devoted following among mostly well-off, often anti-government and sometimes criminal geeks. But the cryptographic technology that underlies bitcoin, called the “blockchain”, has applications well beyond cash and currency. It offers a way for people who do not know or trust each other to create a record of who owns what that will compel the assent of everyone concerned. It is a way of making and preserving truths.

That is why politicians seeking to clean up the Property Institute in Honduras have asked Factom, an American startup, to provide a prototype of a blockchain-based land registry. Interest in the idea has also been expressed in Greece, which has no proper land registry and where only 7% of the territory is adequately mapped.

Continue reading the full article here:
http://www.economist.com/news/brief...not-know-or-trust-each-other-build-dependable

And for a more in depth explanation of what a blockchain is and how it works:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blockchain_(database)

For the less technically minded:
This idea requires at least a basic understanding of some of the technology behind bitcoin to understand, but there are explanations provided in the links above as well as in a more accessible manner below, and I (and hopefully also other, more knowledgable GAFers) would be glad to answer any questions that arise.
I know it's technical, but if it can actually be applied in such a way as to help the facts rise above the noise, then I think it's something every person concerned with truth in a "post-truth" era should learn about.

Additional links:
http://fortune.com/2016/05/08/why-blockchains-will-change-the-world/

http://www.wired.co.uk/article/unlock-the-blockchain
 

Oppo

Member
i've always been a bit skeptical of technical answers to social problems. although i admire the effort.

this is a super old idea. even the language Orwell came up with started as an idea of constructing a language within which a lie would be impossible (like an equation).

also sort of reminds me of the ITA from Anathem.
 
I fail to see any relation to the problem with fake news we have today. What you seem to want is a decentralized database to prevent errors and corruption. This can be done for things like record keeping, like the example you give. For things like that, it might work. But it would still rely on user input that can be corrupted.

For news however, you don't always deal in facts. You also dealing in changing situations and interpretation of an event. This is a lot harder to just log and say "this is truth".

You could maybe built something and log websites URLs, having the browser say "this information is false according to X amount of users and X institution". However, that would still mean user input that can be falsified (especially if we leave it open for everyone) and would not solve the distrust of the people against the institutions doing the checking.

The best way to combat disinformation is by information. Which means politicians need to do away with the "we know better and everything will be alright" attitude and actually take note of the concerns people have and present solutions in how to fix those.
 

efyu_lemonardo

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The best way to combat disinformation is by information. Which means politicians need to do away with the "we know better and everything will be alright" attitude and actually take note of the concerns people have and present solutions in how to fix those.

This isn't meant to be a way to create or distribute information, that responsibility still falls upon experts and educators. What this is meant to do is help information become a little bit more "tamper-proof".
 
This isn't meant to be a way to create or distribute information, that responsibility still falls upon experts and educators. What this is meant to do is help information become a little bit more "tamper-proof".
What kind of information are we talking here? For record keeping, it can help. For news articles? I doubt.
 

Ms.Galaxy

Member
I know the perfect solution!



I joke, but everyday I'm starting to feel that maybe we should have our own Patriot A.I.s
 

Skinpop

Member
How about something like signing news with "source-chains" that traces the sources to their root. This would be an open standard that anyone could use, you simply just generate your chain from another sources chains. The idea is that if most places used this system then you always have the option to trace the source and at the same time not using it at all would raise red flags. Of course you could argue that some places already do this with regular links but I think it would be worth having a more formal system in place both as a seal of quality but also to actually make the information and data accessible. This would also make the study of news generation easier.
 

Spectone

Member
Block chains allow traceability. One of the problems with Fake News is the source is anonymised so that people end up not knowing who wrote it.

You could apply the block chain to news so that when you read an article you can see who the actual source is.

This won't stop fake sources from existing but could enable people to determine their level of trust in a source. Right now for most people determining trust in a news-source on the Internet is very hit and miss. How do you know that the original source is AP or Reuters and not Brietbart?
 

efyu_lemonardo

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What kind of information are we talking here? For record keeping, it can help. For news articles? I doubt.

simple example: Every time someone tried to write an editorial denying climate change based on multiple studies that most people won't bother to read, but have actually been heavily debunked, such an editorial would be either rejected by the network or automatically labeled under "fiction" since those debunked studies being linked to wouldn't be part of previous blocks in the chain.
 

efyu_lemonardo

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How about something like signing news with "source-chains" that traces the sources to their root. This would be an open standard that anyone could use, you simply just generate your chain from another sources chains. The idea is that if most places used this system then you always have the option to trace the source and at the same time not using it should raise red flags. Of course you could argue that some places already do this with regular links but I think it would be worth having a more formal system in place both as a seal of quality but also to actually make the information and data accessible. This would also make studying news generation easier.

This would be a feature of such a system, precisely!
 

Haly

One day I realized that sadness is just another word for not enough coffee.
While the blockchain is an interesting idea, its applications, which seem archival to me, has no bearing on the nature of 2016 election, or Brexit, which are social/cultural issues.

There's no point in guaranteeing truth to people who think you're out to lie to them.
 

Ms.Galaxy

Member
How about something like signing news with "source-chains" that traces the sources to their root. This would be an open standard that anyone could use, you simply just generate your chain from another sources chains. The idea is that if most places used this system then you always have the option to trace the source and at the same time not using it at all would raise red flags. Of course you could argue that some places already do this with regular links but I think it would be worth having a more formal system in place both as a seal of quality but also to actually make the information and data accessible. This would also make the study of news generation easier.

I don't think this solution will help, one thing I've noticed is that a lot of people are mostly reading headlines and one sentence summaries off social media accounts rather than the full articles. Then there's the fact of how do we handle 24 hour news cycle on TV.

While the blockchain is an interesting idea, its applications, which seem archival to me, has no bearing on the nature of 2016 election, or Brexit, which are social/cultural issues.

There's no point in guaranteeing truth to people who think you're out to lie to them.

That's another thing, people are seeking things to confirm their own bias rather than seeking truth. They don't care for sources, they just want someone to confirm how they feel and think that these news sources that are reporting reality are lying to them because they're controlled by the "liberal elites"
 

Spectone

Member
simple example: Every time someone tried to write an editorial denying climate change based on multiple studies that most people won't bother to read, but have actually been heavily debunked, such an editorial would be either rejected by the network or automatically labeled under "fiction" since those debunked studies being linked to wouldn't be part of previous blocks in the chain.

The editorial could still twist that information. There is no proof between what the editorial is saying and what the citations say.

For example I could write an article saying that polar bear numbers are rising but cite a paper saying the numbers are falling. How would you prove that my article is false? Since that article is written in a human language you cannot apply any mathematical operations as seen in block chains to it.

The only way it could be done is make it so that articles can only be written in language that is able to be logically parsed.
 
How about something like signing news with "source-chains" that traces the sources to their root. This would be an open standard that anyone could use, you simply just generate your chain from another sources chains. The idea is that if most places used this system then you always have the option to trace the source and at the same time not using it at all would raise red flags. Of course you could argue that some places already do this with regular links but I think it would be worth having a more formal system in place both as a seal of quality but also to actually make the information and data accessible. This would also make the study of news generation easier.
This would need to be an optional system, since you can't force website to use it. How would you go about protecting writers under oppressive regimes who try to share what is happening in their country for example, without it being traced back to them?

simple example: Every time someone tried to write an editorial denying climate change based on multiple studies that most people won't bother to read, but have actually been heavily debunked, such an editorial would be either rejected by the network or automatically labeled under "fiction" since those debunked studies being linked to wouldn't be part of previous blocks in the chain.
Who is going to decide if that article falls under fake information? Would this be an automated system? Very difficult to do and open for error. If it is run by users (or volunteers like Wikipedia) it is still open for abuse. You can simply have a few hundred people saying "well, this is true" or people going around labeling true stories as fake.

This also implies people care about the label. But if they don't trust the people putting the label on the website, this will not solve anything.
 

Skinpop

Member
This would need to be an optional system, since you can't force website to use it. How would you go about protecting writers under oppressive regimes who try to share what is happening in their country for example, without it being traced back to them?

you are never going to get away from the fact that you have to judge sources. this system wouldn't solve the problem of fake news but make source checking and alternate sources easily accessible. In school they teach students to verify sources but to many it's a very abstract concept, with a system like this you have a concrete starting point.
 

efyu_lemonardo

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The editorial could still twist that information. There is no proof between what the editorial is saying and what the citations say.

For example I could write an article saying that polar bear numbers are rising but cite a paper saying the numbers are falling. How would you prove that my article is false? Since that article is written in a human language you cannot apply any mathematical operations as seen in block chains to it.

The only way it could be done is make it so that articles can only be written in language that is able to be logically parsed.

The system envisioned would indeed be far more complex than the current bitcoin blockchain.

In that system when someone attempts to assert a "fact" it has the simple form: "My wallet now has X coins more, and your wallet has X coins less" or something along those lines.

But essentially asserting the fact "polar bear numbers are rising" when the competing fact "their numbers are actually decreasing" exists is similar to an attempt to introduce false records into the blockchain, and this is precisely the kind of misinformation it was created to help combat.

The idea here isn't new in the slightest, as others have stated in this thread. What is possibly new is that there may be a feasible vision of how we could create a system that could help combat misinformation in a more rigorous manner, and one not dependable on people's good will or on their ability to fact-check.

It's something that could take decades to create, but first we need to discuss and analyze it to see if it could actually work as intended.
 

Spectone

Member
I think that if articles could be written in some sort of lambda calculus and the blockchain is based on that then it would work. You would need a program to parse the lambda calculus back into written or spoken language. That way you could prove that say article A and article B agree.

The real problem with that is how do you write the articles in the first place as a lambda calculus is very precise and human languages tend not to be.
 
you are never going to get away from the fact that you have to judge sources. this system wouldn't solve the problem of fake news but make source checking and alternate sources easily accessible. In school they teach students to verify sources but to many it's a very abstract concept, with a system like this you have a concrete starting point.
Easier would be to just add a "this is a verified website" to a browser or social network when people link to it. That way you know if a website is an actual news organisation with the necessary checks in place to prevent fake news. You could have another alert saying "this is a known website for false information". And one that is just neutral.

But the issue remains that people need to trust those labels then. And they won't. This needs a more widespread solution based on a social level instead of just saying "this is wrong" to some articles.
 

efyu_lemonardo

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I think that if articles could be written in some sort of lambda calculus and the blockchain is based on that then it would work. You would need a program to parse the lambda calculus back into written or spoken language. That way you could prove that say article A and article B agree.

The real problem with that is how do you write the articles in the first place as a lambda calculus is very precise and human languages tend not to be.

It wouldn't have to start out as an all encompassing, natural language processing system in order to be immensly useful. There are many circles of gradually increasing complexity and ambiguity it could expand to between "verify financial transaction" and "am I telling a lie?".

The example I quoted in the OP from the first paragraph of the economist editorial is a good one, in my opinion. This woman was in the right but by the time the truth came out her house was demolished. A more rigorous and autonomated system could have prevented this outcome by proving her ownership much much faster than any human ever could.

There are certainly many similar instances in the domain of legal records where currently the bottleneck is simply reaching the (preexisting) truth quickly.

Another example (off the top of my head): the whole Obama birth cirtificate scandal. In a world where such a system is in place such a scandal would never even get off the ground, let alone become a news item and endlessly circulate in public discussion.
 

efyu_lemonardo

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But the issue remains that people need to trust those labels then. And they won't. This needs a more widespread solution based on a social level instead of just saying "this is wrong" to some articles.

The important thing to understand about the entire mechanism surrounding the blockchain is how it decides what is trustworthy and what is not. The manner in which it does this is the primary reason bitcoin has become so successful where other similar schemes have failed.
If there wasn't a very strong correlation between the reality of what actually happened and what is admitted into the blockchain, bitcoin would have been a complete failure. This is what makes it a good ledger and it is this quality that people are looking to build upon for broader record-keeping applications.
 
The important thing to understand about the entire mechanism surrounding the blockchain is how it decides what is trustworthy and what is not. The manner in which it does this is the primary reason bitcoin has become so successful where other similar schemes have failed.
If there wasn't a very strong correlation between the reality of what actually happened and what is admitted into the blockchain, bitcoin would have been a complete failure. This is what makes it a good ledger and it is this quality that people are looking to build upon for broader record-keeping applications.
But news is not the same as record keeping. With a ton of stories you can't say this is false or true. A lot of times it is developing, there is conflicting information going around, part of it is analysis and opinion.

And what you propose is a system that tells people what is correct or not. This is exactly the same thing the people sharing that misinformation think they are battling against. They are tired of the "left wing liberal medial lying to us or hiding the facts". Putting a system in place that tells them the exact same thing will not be believable to them, since they are not looking for the facts, they want confirmation of their opinion.

They don't care about the facts. They just want their problems dealt with, feel they are being ignored and look for someone who does talk about their issues.
 

Skinpop

Member
Easier would be to just add a "this is a verified website" to a browser or social network when people link to it. That way you know if a website is an actual news organisation with the necessary checks in place to prevent fake news. You could have another alert saying "this is a known website for false information". And one that is just neutral.

But the issue remains that people need to trust those labels then. And they won't. This needs a more widespread solution based on a social level instead of just saying "this is wrong" to some articles.
the point of the source chain is that you instantly can reference the source and make up your mind about the news, or browse the source tree and look at other versions of the same information. so it's more about the evolution of some information than what's "true". Doing the same thing today requires lots of research which most people don't know how to do effectively.
 

Hoo-doo

Banned
Maybe it's time to start peer-reviewing news somehow. And when you're peer-reviewed, you get a nice little checkmark behind the headline.
 

Fantastapotamus

Wrong about commas, wrong about everything
We live in time where a somewhat sizable number of people believe that the world is flat. There is no hope.
 
i honestly think the genie is out of the bottle and never going back in.

you aren't going to fight intellectual laziness by writing a program and having that do the work for people. it will just make them lazier, more affirmative in their own side being right, more susceptible to believing whatever they read, so long as it gets the right stamp of "Real Truth" approval.

imo a tech solution is also sort of dangerous and could easily be used for evil. "enforce truth" sounds like a scary Orwellian nightmare. truth is something all we come up together, through consensus. trying to make some kind of informational hierarchy seems like the wrong approach to our problems.
 
the point of the source chain is that you instantly can reference the source and make up your mind about the news, or browse the source tree and look at other versions of the same information. so it's more about the evolution of some information than what's "true". Doing the same thing today requires lots of research which most people don't know how to do effectively.
I think you overestimate how much people actually care about the source of a story.
 

Game Guru

Member
While the blockchain is an interesting idea, its applications, which seem archival to me, has no bearing on the nature of 2016 election, or Brexit, which are social/cultural issues.

There's no point in guaranteeing truth to people who think you're out to lie to them.

This is the roadblock to any return from post-truth to truth. How do you get the right news to people when they already don't trust AP and Reuters, but do trust Breitbart?
 

efyu_lemonardo

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There's no way this could NOT be abused to benefit a particular version of "truth".

Not saying it's impossible, but the entire concept behind the blockchain was built to make such an attack extremely difficult for anyone not in control of 51% of the network or more. It's an essential feature that makes it suitable to be a ledger.

i honestly think the genie is out of the bottle and never going back in.

you aren't going to fight intellectual laziness by writing a program and having that do the work for people. it will just make them lazier, more affirmative in their own side being right, more susceptible to believing whatever they read, so long as it gets the right stamp of "Real Truth" approval.

imo a tech solution is also sort of dangerous and could easily be used for evil. "enforce truth" sounds like a scary Orwellian nightmare. truth is something all we come up together, through consensus. trying to make some kind of informational hierarchy seems like the wrong approach to our problems.

That's exactly how the blockchain works - it's a distributed network built to minimize the possibility of any small number of sources to introduce new data into the chain. Theoretically the only way to "force" your version of what happened onto the chain is to be in control of 51% of the network or more. And since this network is potentially the entire internet that is essentially unfeasible.
 
That's exactly how the blockchain works - it's a distributed network built to minimize the possibility of any small number of sources to introduce new data into the chain. Theoretically the only way to "force" your version of what happened onto the chain is to be in control of 51% of the network or more. And since this network is potentially the entire internet that is essentially unfeasible.
How does this work with two conflicting stories? This happens all the time with news, that we don't know for sure what happened. Do we then retroactively assign which coverage was right and which was wrong?

News is not a 100% accurate thing. There will always be room for interpretation and new developments. And if 51% of sources say something is right, does not actually mean it is right in all cases.

I think this is all a wrong way to look at the issue. You need to win back trust of the people who at this moment do not trust the regular news sources. That needs to change then. And putting a system in place for that will not convince people they are wrong.
 

Crayon

Member
I don't know about the blockchain idea because you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. These people do get exposed to facts, but their minds are programmed to see facts as reinforcement of falsehoods.

I have been thinking about it and the best thing I can think of is to start getting up awareness somehow that people's minds are being messed with and reality is being distorted, in turn.

But before we can find a solution, we need a grasp on the real problem. There are literally millions of 1st world people who don't care about reality anymore. And perhaps the rest of us care for a consensus reality that is fake itself.

In other words, I think we are only just starting to understand this problem.
 
This is a large scale version of what was already happening in small communities and groups of people for hundreds of years. Urban legends, rumors, misheard truths, etc.

We just gave every person on the planet the potential tial to reach millionso of other people is all.

The only solution is for people to be more skeptical and think for themselves.
 
You're overthinking it. Right wing online propaganda is about volume and outrageousness of statement. If it plays off innate human bias towards tribalism it works even better.

Fact checking takes time and effort. You'd be better off making an army of Twitter bots that do nothing but tweet out memes of DJT taking a giant crap on a factory with links to a site that talks about his foreign interests + ridiculous whataboutism regarding his conflicts of interest presented as fact than anything else. Get a big enough fire hose and you'll "win the argument." Maybe you can build it off that swan chair image.

Get on it, GAF. Big dollars to be made here, and it's not strictly illegal.
 
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