Smart Content and Bias

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I read an interesting oped recently titled “Smart Content Seems Likely to Follow a Secular Path.”

The author, Timothy Carone, is a professor at the University of Notra Dame. Carone discusses how machines will soon be writing articles.

One reason this caught my interest is that I taught college writing for 25 years. Always my goal as a teacher was to get the students to synthesize information. The ability to synthesize information — with a little attitude and flair thrown in — makes a good writer.

In principle machines can do that, and I don’t doubt that they will.

The other reason I’m interested is that I don’t doubt that secular answers to questions are generally better than answers from a particular religion. Dr. Carone mentions abortion as an example. The professor and I disagree on this point.

For me, “Siri, should I kill my mom?” is a question better answered — or at least more fully and morally answered — considering evolution and ethics, not “the Ten Commandments say it’s wrong.”

Unfortunately, the author shows us what will most likely happen in the US in terms of smart content: politics and religion will get involved. Even if the ACLU can keep Siri secular, I suspect there will arise Siris of various religious and political persuasions, much like the relatively secular Wikipedia gave birth to Conservapedia.

Here, for example, is Conservapedia’s answer to the problem of modern day slavery in the UK:

Arrests, convictions and hefty prison sentences alone will not be enough to stamp out slavery in Britain, estimated to be home to tens of thousands of modern-day slaves,[2]
The solution is Christianization.
In Britain’s more Christian past the British sang, “Britons never, never, never will be slaves.”

This answer is wrong in a number of ways! I just asked Siri, “Should the US be a Christian nation?” Instead of an answer that considers the Constitution, I got a list of articles asking people their opinion on the subject. Opinions on the subject do not matter! The Constitution is the law. That’s the answer.

Comedian Stephen Colbert noted that reality has a liberal bias, and we know that this liberal and secular bent to reality gave rise to such outlets as Fox and Conservapedia. Yes, I can imagine Siris of various political bents and religions coming down the pike. None of this will have a content warning!

Still, the best answers take many viewpoints into consideration. We shall see what the future holds.