Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Truth Machine

The following is an excerpt from a novel-in-progress called An American History.

One invention that I think would change the world would be a machine that is able to quickly distinguish between truth and bullshit--a machine that is constantly updating itself with all the world's collective knowledge.

"Wait a minute!" one might interject, "We already have that invention.  It's called a computer.  It has access to the world wide web!"

It's a point well taken, but unfortunately the world wide web is not simply a repository for all the world's knowledge.  It's also  repository for advertisements, celebrity gossip, millions of silly pictures, human opinions, prejudices, conspiracy theories, and lots of stuff that is probably false.

The proposed Truth Machine would be able to sift through all the bullshit, and emerge with pure truth.  It would be a very useful tool for winning arguments.  In fact, it would probably render arguments obsolete, providing both parties had a Truth Machine.  The disagreement could be efficiently solved by consulting the machine.

There are, of course, some inherent problems with the Truth Machine that would have to be worked out.  Fact-based questions like, "What are the major commercial exports of Indonesia?" could be easily answered.  But what about more complex/abstract questions like, "What were the social impacts of World War I on Finland?"  The Truth Machine could answer this, but it would require a lengthy answer that would necessitate much patient reading, listening, and critical thinking on the part of the inquisitive humans. 

And what about subjective questions like, "Is it morally praiseworthy to build a machine that can answer any question?"  What would the Truth Machine do if it was asked to justify its own existence?  Would it self-destruct?  Would it go out of its digital mind?

It seems, for the time being, that the best Truth Machine remains the human brain, but it is a very imperfect machine.

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