Could IBM Watson Fix Facebook's 'Truth Problem'?

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Facebook has a serious problem in that they were seen as being part of what may have been a successful attempt to change the outcome of the last election. The amount of false information being exchanged on this social media service is resulting in governments thinking about regulating or even breaking up the company. Facebook is between a rock and a hard place because “the truth” is often subjective, where what is true to one party is equally false to the other. 

Since Facebook itself is perceived as being biased (or perhaps the news sources it hosts are), a solution from them would be suspect regardless of whether it was AI-based or, assuming such a thing was financially viable (which I doubt it is), human-driven.  But IBM may have a solution that could work here.

Let me explain.

The Power Of A Brand

Our image of IBM goes back decades longer than our image of Facebook. For the most part, IBM is trusted, and they don’t appear to be either conservative or liberal. And at a century-old, our perceptions of the company in many cases were set when even the oldest of us were children. 

Now IBM, by policy, avoids politics, and this has contributed to the impression they are politically neutral. Besides, the firm is well regarded, tied tightly to the United States as one of the historically most powerful country assets, and it has performed impressively well internationally, showcasing that its ability to avoid and survive controversy is largely unmatched. 

In terms of trusted brands in the government technology space, IBM is unmatched. 

The Value of Artificial Intelligence

IBM also has the most advanced, scalable, deployable AI in the market with Watson. They recognized the opportunity to have an enterprise-class AI long before anyone else, and they have demonstrated human-like competence both with Jeopardy and with a debate against a live professional debater a few years ago.  

I attended that debate and was impressed that Watson not only was better with the facts, it was better with humor. It lost the debate, but it was arguably the audience's favorite. And unlike the human, Watson could have handled hundreds if not thousands of parallel debates with equal competence because you can scale a computer – but not a human.  

Watson could be trained to, with high accuracy, pick out and both flag and fix false statements at computer speed. It is capable of moderating and learning from the Facebook data steam to make decisions with high integrity and good accuracy. 

Information Bias

However, the real concern would be introduced bias either in training or oversight. Here too, IBM has an advantage as they flagged bias as a critical problem years ago and have been developing strategies to overcome it for years. 

Of the major vendors they have what is arguably the best defense for bias in the industry though, to make this work, Facebook would likely have to outsource this process to IBM because, if they touched it, the impression of bias (regardless of whether it was introduced) would remain. 

Human Escalation

Now I do think they’ll need a human component, but I expect that could be done with retired judges that were balanced from both parties. But given the work, IBM has done here they might be able to come up with a better escalation strategy. 

Facebook has a problem with fake news and false ads on its service. If they don’t address this problem, they are likely to either be broken up or fined at unsustainable levels.

It would be fascinating to see one of the youngest companies saved by one of the oldest. But, once done, it would place IBM in the social media business in quality control, something both the Social Media industry and IBM could use.    



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