Before we get to computers, let’s see some examples of how truth is handled in everyday life.
“When your head says one thing and your whole life says another, your head always loses,” proclaimed
Humprey Bogart as Frank McCloud in Key Largo (1948). Your whole life that Bogart refers to is all the information relating to an issue you have accumulated over a lifetime. This is a huge amount of information distilled to an essence, which may well closely approximate the truth about the issue.
You are unlikely to find and express your version of the truth unless you are unfettered in an environment of liberty. José Martí, the Cuban philosopher and poet (1853-1895), got to the heart of the matter when he wrote, “Liberty is the right of every man to be truthful…” Ironically, the absence of liberty today in Cuba shows up as the lack of truthfulness there.
This same relationship is manifest in a wide variety of human endeavors. For example:
Politics Politicians, at the least, must compromise their actions originally based on truth, for actions based on expediency. As the saying goes, “Politics is the art of compromise.”
Science Almost all scientists are concerned about criticism and advancement, so they prefer peer-acceptable results over pathbreaking scientific advancements. They become intellectually trapped when in the university and related research institutions. Albert Einstein (1879-1955), on the other hand, did most of his most creative work while employed as a clerk in the Swiss patent office over the years 1903-1906. His productivity seems to have diminished after he joined universities later on.
The Military Generals and admirals must trade their best judgement about military strategy, the truth about when, where and how to win, for survival at the hands of their political masters. The various American conflicts after World War II are good examples of this.
Now, about the computers getting involved in the search for truth:
Artificial intelligence (AI) introduces a new factor into the truth realm. Computers that think with AI, do not have biases against seeking and stating the truth. Non-computer biases against the truth include emotion, egotism, and self-preservation.
As access to databases becomes comprehensive, such as seems will be the case on Google search, and sophisticated search and analysis systems such as IBM’s Watson become more comprehensive, computers will be ever more able to separate non-truths from truths.
How will a computer know a truth to be the truth when it produces it? People will become more concerned about this because, in a world of big data, they might come to trust only what can be verified electronically.
Larry Kilham is a Sloan School of Management graduate from MIT, received three patents, and has founded two high-tech companies. Many of his product designs required innovative use of computers, and as early as the 1960s he was researching artificial intelligence (AI).