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MIT boffin's 'truth goggles' probe print and pols

Journalists and politicians run for cover

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A student at MIT’s Media Lab is developing a browser plug-in that can check the accuracy of information posted online, and may use it to monitor political speeches for untruths.

For his master’s thesis, Dan Schultz – who was recently named a 2011 Knight-Mozilla Fellow – came up with the idea for “truth goggles” while talking to a fact checker at Truthsquad, who was explaining that the principle problem with fact checking was getting people access to the skinny. Schultz then came up with the idea as a way to correct incorrect information, but more importantly to get people to think critically about what they are reading.

“Even fact checkers aren’t perfect - who watches the fact checker, after all – and the problem will continue if people stop looking for the truth,” Schultz explained to The Register. “This software puts the onus on users and makes it as easy as possible to find corroborating facts. Ideally, it will trigger skepticism among users and encourage them to think more about what they read.”

The prototype browser software, which uses APIs from Politifact, will be submitted as part of his master’s thesis in May, and will initially concentrate on the printed word, which is a lot easier for computers to parse.

Schultz, however, may soon be able to scale up the original code and begin human testing. Looking ahead, it should be possible to integrate speech recognition and add that to the code, allowing the "truth goggles" to scan television in real time.

Sadly, the system almost certainly won’t be available before next year’s US presidential election, but Schultz said he is hopeful that certain mediums could be tackled in time – notably political advertising.

He envisages that his software could one day be installed on a smart television or computer browser, and people could add notes as to the truthiness of a political advert, which would then be available to other people running the software.

Eventually, if Schultz's work is successful, journalists could run a quick fact check on articles before printing them – although for some publications, this could lead to entire issues getting junked. ®

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