Monday, February 18, 2013

Yeah, I'm getting tired of these too

Once again I made the mistake of listening to On the Media. It started out reasonably benign with a standard but harmless piece on cyber-security, then went downhill with a smug piece on fact-checking before going off a cliff with this ddulite puff piece. Here's the blurb:
Late last month, The Washington Post debuted "The Truthteller," an application that it hopes will soon be able to fact-check politicians' speeches in real time using speech-to-text technology and a vast database of facts. Brooke talks to Cory Haik, The Washington Post's executive producer for digital news, about the app.
Of course, the speech-to-text and database problems are trivial next to the issues with processing natural language. To work at anywhere near the level discussed by Haik, the system would have to be considerably more advanced than IBM's Watson. Watson was designed to address short, free-standing questions following similar linguistic conventions and having clear, unambiguous answers.

This isn't meant to denigrate the team that developed Watson. Just the opposite. Interpreting natural language is extraordinarily difficult and solving even highly constrained problems is an impressive and important accomplishment. IBM has a lot to brag about.

The Washington Post currently has a beta up that apparently can sometimes spot strings that look like simple factual statements that lend themselves to automated comparison to a database. There's no reason to believe the app will ever move much beyond that, but the interviewer did believe...

without sign of suspicion...

immediately after a segment boasting about how carefully On the Media checks its facts.

To quote Snoopy, "the mind reels with sarcastic replies."


  1. In the movie The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, a man's life is irrevocably altered by the mistranslation of a single word. You'd think this would be a cautionary tale.

    There is a YouTube clip featuring Harlan Ellison called Pay The Writer. I turned the captioning on and look at what I got. I've added punctuation:

    "...yeah woman called reaches his her we'd like to use it on the DVD. Can that be...a razor's absolutely right? That is, baby. She said, "What?", decapitated. He said, "Well, everybody else's doing it for nothing, well, everybody else may be a national but I'm not."

    " can use my ear mite, my interview."

    "I guess your due a freebie from Warner Brothers"

    "...and a problem is that there's a document e writers who have no idea that they're supposed to be paid every time they do something."

    "Good loaded with a look at me and will be noticed moot."

    "You tell me, are they any less the media hora tonight?"

    For those of you who thought "At the Mouse Circus" might be worth a second or third reading, I suggest you try this. Woe betide anyone with hearing challenges who has never read any Ellison. Who can coerce them to read his work after seeing this? Only the true intellects among us are, as Harlan puts it, "Noticed Moots"

    "Janitors make it tough for the professionals"

    1. And remember, speech-to-text is the EASY part.