Mr. K.H. and a few others of you brought this intriguing development to my attention, and this one is worth pondering very carefully. Google, it seems, wants to reshape the internet into an "internet of facts":
Consider the hopelessly "party line" approach that New Scientist, and Google, appear to be pushing here:
"THE internet is stuffed with garbage. Anti-vaccination websites make the front page of Google, and fact-free "news" stories spread like wildfire. Google has devised a fix – rank websites according to their truthfulness.
"Google's search engine currently uses the number of incoming links to a web page as a proxy for quality, determining where it appears in search results. So pages that many other sites link to are ranked higher. This system has brought us the search engine as we know it today, but the downside is that websites full of misinformation can rise up the rankings, if enough people link to them.
"A Google research team is adapting that model to measure the trustworthiness of a page, rather than its reputation across the web. Instead of counting incoming links, the system – which is not yet live – counts the number of incorrect facts within a page. "A source that has few false facts is considered to be trustworthy," says the team (arxiv.org/abs/1502.03519v1). The score they compute for each page is its Knowledge-Based Trust score.
"The software works by tapping into the Knowledge Vault, the vast store of facts that Google has pulled off the internet. Facts the web unanimously agrees on are considered a reasonable proxy for truth. Web pages that contain contradictory information are bumped down the rankings."
Of course, the internet is stuffed with garbage. I myself have been a victim of it(see the whole Amit Gotswami affair), and others have been too. But the obvious epistemological and philosophical problems of what Google is proposing are also evident. Whose "facts" are going to be so rated? Is Google trying to position itself, via its proposed search engine modifications, as the new internet magisterium with claims to infallibility ex consensu ecclesiae internetae, tha final arbiter of what is and is not a fact? Where will they come down, for example, on the "fact" that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and killed President Kennedy? or that James Earl Ray acted alone and killed Dr. Martin Luther King? or that Sirhan Sirhan... well, you get the idea. And 9/11? Is it a "fact" that 19 "Muslim terrorists" highjacked four planes with box cutters and flew then into buildings? Is it a "fact" that GMOs are scientifically proven to be harmless, and that vaccines have no relationship to the rise in autism?
And what about "contradictions"? How does one measure synthesis here, even of the Hegelian sort? Is a website, for example, to be found "in contradiction" if, say, it runs a story one month on the role of the Mafia in the JFK assassination, and then the next about the role of the CIA, or anti-Castro Cubans? Is that a contradiction? Is Google trying to be the Rush Limbaugh of the internet, documented "in almost all cases to be 99% right"?
I suspect that what's really going on here, folks, is that while efforts to regulate the internet continue to flounder, that other options, more "private" and "corporate" ones are being explored. The problem is, no amount of regulation, of the internet, radio, television, or so on, can get around one crucial and obvious thing. People are waking up; they have lost trust in any one news or opinion source, and are making up their own minds on things, thank you very much.
See you on the flip side...