After being rather disappointed with the recent election, coming to grips with Jim Inhofe taking control again of the Senate Environment Committee, I've been wondering what I can do for future elections.

In the wake of the elections, NPR featured a former Bush (W) administration official gladly claiming that America had spoken clearly that they didn't like that the average family income had gone down by 2600$ per year since 2007. This infuriated me. It left everyone to draw their own conclusions, but one was obvious: it is Obama and the Democrats' fault for the decrease. Well, let's think for a moment - what happened in 2007? Some kind of economic crash? Was his reference point before or after the crash?

This kind of news is exceedingly misleading, and I am infuriated by how often this kind of thing influences people. We only ever get news with selective context, never the whole story. Anyone wanting the whole story needs to find it themselves, and that's really hard. There are some reliable journalistic sources, but people generally go to the loudest source, or to the one they trust most (often one politically aligned with them).

Enter my newest idea: can you come up with a machine learning system that is capable of aggregating facts, classifying news articles based on their usage of facts, and generally providing a tool for enlightening the public?

I've come up with a few ideas of what this system might do:

  • Monitor news sources; aggregate them into meta-pages on topics, sort of like Wikipedia summaries, with links about where content originated to read more.
  • Expand contexts for all numeric figures stated. People always choose whatever contexts push their agenda. This system should be able to restate facts/statistics in many ways (at least whatever ways the aggregate news source collects), and also be able to make simple inferences about related events (such as average annual salary going down since 2007 <-> recession).
  • Provide something like a browser extension to overlay sites with ratings/warnings about slanted facts. (perhaps something like this:
  • Provide lobbying/contribution information to examine which interests are involved in events/decisions (see the already excellent browser extension, Greenhouse:

Whether anyone would read such a thing is another question, but the burden on people to collect facts outside of sound bites is currently too great. The opportunity for voting based on reason rather than emotion is limited as such.

Next: how to get more people to vote.