Announcing the Great KJR 2016 Election Real-time Fact Checking Challenge!

But first an assurance: This won’t be a political column. And a disclaimer: What follows is probably a pipedream. Still …

A confession: I’m addicted to fact-checking websites. The granddaddy of them all is, to the best of my knowledge,, and it’s arguably the most thorough. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler runs its Fact Checker blog, which Kessler livens up by summarizing each fact-check with a rating that runs from Gepetto (completely accurate) through 4 Pinocchio’s.

My favorite is PolitiFact, with a rating scale of True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False, and for truly egregious falsehoods, Pants on Fire.

What I most appreciate about all of these is that they are (1) entirely non-partisan (or, more accurately, they’re partisans for accuracy and against fictional accounts of events, not for a political party or philosophy); and (2) sufficiently explanatory that their scoring rationales are clear and clearly reliable.

But … their value suffers from a limitation familiar to IT professionals, namely, data latency. In the world of IT, data latency is the result of overnight batch processing. That is, transactions come in throughout the course of a day, but the information available from the databases they post to isn’t an accurate reflection of the state of things until the next morning.

In the case of the fact-checking sites, politicians and pundits make speeches or debate one day, but the fact checkers don’t catch up until the next morning at best. Even worse, many of those who listen to the speeches aren’t addicted to fact-checking sites as I am, and so, like managers who trust their guts so much they don’t bother reading computer-generated reports, they won’t ever read the fact checkers’ findings.

Which is why I’m announcing the Great KJR 2016 Election Real-Time Fact Checking Challenge.

What it will take — the winning entrant will listen to political speech, and, in near-real-time:

  • Recognize statements of purported fact (as opposed to opinions, which will not be scored).
  • Evaluate them using criteria similar to what human fact-checkers use.
  • Evaluate quickly enough to flash the phrase in question along with a red, yellow, or green indicator before the speaker is too far into the next subject.
  • Pass an accuracy test by matching or improving on the judgment of the current crop of human fact checkers, with “improving on” defined as the fact checkers reading the machine’s explanation and saying, “Gee, I never thought of that.”

I figure this isn’t all that different or more difficult than what it took for Watson to learn to play Jeopardy, let alone its having read and assimilated the meaning of ream upon ream of medical literature so as to become a premiere diagnostician.

Which means IBM is one logical entrant for our little contest. Meanwhile, Google is the undisputed master of Internet search, and has invested heavily in machine learning technology besides, so Google is another logical entrant.

Who else? Beats me. I don’t see Siri, Cortana, or Echo reaching this level any time soon, but I’m sure there are other potential entrants that would jump at the opportunity.

And while I’d be happy to adjudicate, KJR’s involvement isn’t really necessary. Any company that could win, place, or show in the Great KJR 2016 Election Real-Time Fact Checking Challenge could more easily market the result directly to whichever networks will carry the pre-election debates between (unless something seriously unexpected happens) Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

What network wouldn’t want to include this feature, especially if all the others did?

Regrettably, while everyone reading these words can see the inevitability of this capability becoming reality, it probably won’t be in time for this presidential election. The next one, though, is likely, and if not then certainly the one after that.

When it is available, real-time fact-checking will be a complete game changer for electioneering. Even if some news networks prove so partisan that they create their own phony fact checking AIs, dual-screening is increasingly prevalent, so many voters would bring up an independent fact checking AI on their tablet or mobile device while watching a speech or debate.

Okay, fun’s fun. Imagining candidates who know that the moment they utter a false statement it would immediately be flagged Pants on Fire for all to see is a lovely day dream.

The larger point is that unlike previous tries at commercializing artificial intelligence technologies, which have proven useful but not transformational, we’re on the verge of capabilities whose impact will be nothing short of dramatic.

It isn’t too soon to start your strategic planning engines, to figure out how the new wave of artificial intelligence might affect your company’s marketplace, and its competitive position in it.