[OPINION] No, AI won’t solve the fake news problem

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios


At least not for decades to come. Sorry, Mark Zuckerberg.

By Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis | Axios

(Editor’s note: Opinion pieces are published for discussions purposes only.)

In his testimony before Congress this year, Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, addressed concerns about the strategically disseminated misinformation known as fake news that may have affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Have no fear, he assured Congress, a solution was on its way — if not next year, then at least “over a five- to 10-year period.”

The solution? Artificial intelligence. Mr. Zuckerberg’s vision, which the committee members seemed to accept, was that soon enough, Facebook’s A.I. programs would be able to detect fake news, distinguishing it from more reliable information on the platform.

With midterms approaching, along with the worrisome prospect that fake news could once again influence our elections, we wish we could say we share Mr. Zuckerberg’s optimism. But in the near term we don’t find his vision plausible. Decades from now, it may be possible to automate the detection of fake news. But doing so would require a number of major advances in A.I., taking us far beyond what has so far been invented.

As Mr. Zuckerberg has acknowledged, today’s A.I. operates at the “keyword” level, flagging word patterns and looking for statistical correlations among them and their sources. This can be somewhat useful: Statistically speaking, certain patterns of language may indeed be associated with dubious stories. For instance, for a long period, most articles that included the words “Brad,” “Angelina” and “divorce” turned out to be unreliable tabloid fare. Likewise, certain sources may be associated with greater or lesser degrees of factual veracity. The same account deserves more credence if it appears in The Wall Street Journalthan in The National Enquirer.


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