Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Big Brother would like Truthy

Meet “Truthy,” one more step into robo-life, where an omnipotent government beholds all and interprets for us what we should know.

Posted on Aug. 30, 2014 at 5:20 p.m.

The goal is to “… mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, detect hate speech and subversive propaganda, and assist in the preservation of open debate.” What could be wrong with that?

It’s something Indiana University is working on. And although it sounds good when its noble goals are stated, it’s worrisome.

It’s called Truthy. It’s one more step into robo-life where an omnipotent government beholds all and interprets for us what we should know. It is a database that, according to its grant request, is designed to “detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution.”

So far the school has received close to $1 million in grant money for the project.

The name Truthy is a take-off on a term used by comedian Stephen Colbert. He coined the word “truthiness” in 2005 during the first episode of his political satire program, “The Colbert Report.”

Of course, we already have services like FactCheck.org and Snopes.com where we can check the “truthiness” of what we receive in our morning email box. The challenge is to get people to use these sites. And to get them to quit forwarding blatantly bogus stuff.

A government-funded solution to what is essentially a people problem conjures up, for me, an image of President Snow, the demonic ruler of Panem, in the movie “Hunger Games.” Watching, controlling, deciding.

We are told by Truthy’s proponents, “This service could mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, detect hate speech and subversive propaganda, and assist in the preservation of open debate.” Dang if that doesn’t sound like a bit of dialog from the Hunger Games’ movie.

Truthy will catalog how information is spread on Twitter, especially during political campaigns. I can see value in that. But “Big Brother” is a scary dude. We’re just now trying to come to grips with the NSA’s overreach into our personal information.

I have a car that thinks for me. I’ve mentioned it before. When I stop for a traffic light the engine turns off; when the light changes and I take my foot off the brake, the engine starts again. When the windshield wipers are turned on, the headlights turn on, too.

I don’t even have to take the key out of my pocket. Car knows it’s there, so it turns on dash lights when I enter and starts at the simple press of a button. The seat and the mirrors adjust for me automatically if they’ve been changed by someone since the last time I was the driver.

Thank you, Car, for shepherding me. Except, to tell you the truth, I oftentimes miss the Plymouth that was my first car. Roll- down windows, three-speed transmission, headlights I had to turn off and on for myself.

I could get in my Plymouth in the darkness of a summer night and drive to a hill looking down at a quiet lake in Michigan. And think my thoughts. And listen to my music. And be lost to the world.

It was a joy that is probably unknown to most millennials. Today, in my car on that hill, I could easily be located by the GPS in my cell phone or the one in my car’s “Assist” button. That’s mostly a good thing. And yet — OK, I’ve gotten sidetracked.

“Truthy” was the subject. It’s a project to alert us to what is true and what is false. And to tell us what is appropriate humor and what is hateful speech. All sanctioned by a faceless arbiter of good taste and political correctness and funded by the government.

What could be wrong with that?

Former Elkhart furniture store owner Richard Leib has served on planning committees in several industries. An avid auto fan, he raced in the 1972 coast-to-coast Cannonball Run. He has written on a wide range of subjects.

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