You didn’t believe me when I said, “In ten years nobody will be able to lie,” did you?
All I can say now is, “Ha!”
In the few weeks since I wrote that series, I have seen many articles touting progress in the area of truth-detection. Here’s the latest one, from The Atlantic: Algorithms Can Help Stomp Out Fake News. You can visit the link for the full story, but here I’ll give you a peek at just a few of the fascinating techniques that are already in use today.
When I was in high school, my grandparents took me on a trip across the country. Back then, I was firmly in the evangelical Christian camp. They were not, so we had some lively discussions.
During one of them, my grandfather asked what credentials one of my sources had earned. “Where had he gone to college? How about graduate school?”
“What does that matter?” I thought. “What’s important is whether his arguments are sound.”
The Singularity refers to that point in the closer-than-you-think future when technology will have so transformed our society that people from today would barely recognize life in the Singularity era. It borrows its name from the singularity at the center of a black hole, where the laws of physics as we know them break down.
In my last post, I forecast one piece of technology that will change society in ways we can’t predict: the ubiquitous, accurate lie detector. Now let’s start to consider how our lives might change when nearly every lie can be detected.
Even if you don’t buy my premise that we’ll have these devices, let’s have fun speculating together, for speculation is all that we can do. In fact, the consequences of these Singularity-era devices are so uncertain that maybe I should only ask questions. Let’s begin with this one:
In the previous post in this series, I suggested a first guideline for deciding whether to trust a website:
#1: When the website makes a mistake, what kind is it?
What I had in mind was the distinction between honest mistakes, intentional lies, and bullshit, with the last being the worst.
Next up we have this simple idea:
#2: When the website makes a mistake, how do they handle it?
Do they publish a retraction? Do they put it in a place where a reader of the original story is likely to find it? Or, do they leave the original story as-is?
Continuing with the example from last time, Rush Limbaugh was spouting on his radio show about President Obama’s “invasion” of Uganda to fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Limbaugh said this was Obama’s effort to “wipe out Christians in Sudan [and] Uganda.” Limbaugh could not have been more wrong. The LRA were a marauding band of thugs conducting a campaign of rape, abduction, and murder across the region.
I happened to catch this show on the radio and heard a someone call in to set Rush straight.
If you’re the sort of person who can spend several minutes at a time staring at unbelievably large numbers being incremented at an unbelievable rate, check this out: Internet Live Stats.
As I write this at 9:30 am, the counter of blog posts written today is at roughly 1.8 million. It is incrementing at roughly 3,000 per minute. This in the same neighborhood as the rate at which an A-10 Warthog’s very impressive Avenger gun fires its rounds, except that according to Wikipedia, “In practice, the [Avenger] cannon is limited to one and two-second bursts to avoid overheating and conserve ammunition; barrel life is also a factor…” By the way, each of those roughly 3,000 rounds per minute weighs nearly a pound. Can you imagine!?
And that’s just the blog posts. It does not count all the stories at news sites, propaganda at campaign websites, YouTube videos, and on and on.
With all that ammunition being fired at us, how can we tell which are the good guys (the truth-lovers) and which are the bad (the liars and BS artists)?
Last time, I promised a simple way to detect which ideas are full of baloney. The technique I’ll share has kept me from being taken in numerous times, one of which I wrote about in the post, A UFO Nut’s Truth-Loving Test. As in that case, the technique is particularly effective when you have a pet idea that you think is above refutation.
Use your favorite Internet search engine to search for
If you’re just joining my story, here’s a quick catch-up. Once upon a time, I was an evangelical Christian. Although I was not a die-hard creationist, I considered creationists to be “my team” and evolutionists to be the godless “other team.” I trusted creationists because they were fellow Christians, and conservative ones at that. A decision my wife and I had to make forced me to investigate the creation/evolution issue more closely.
I hope the last few posts have given you a window into why I was appalled at how dishonest the creationist arguments turned out to have been. Now I’d like to give just a glimpse into the sort of arguments that I discovered on the side of evolution.
Most remarkable was the way completely independent lines of evidence all pointed to the same conclusion. This graph is an example. It’s from the book that opened my eyes to the power of the evolutionary explanation for life, Scientists Confront Creationism.
I’ll walk you through it, and then I’ll say why I found it so compelling.