Standards also help, as we fight to make sure the cost of sharing doesn't outweigh the benefits
A cartoon from the New Yorker long ago made it clear: "No one on the Internet knows you are a dog." If this cartoon had been written today, the caption could have read: "On the Internet, no one knows that you are a fraud."
Scammers, snake oil sellers, sock puppets, robot armies and bullies – every time we look up, it seems we are discovering another form of dishonesty, spreading globally via the magnificent and terrifying combination of internet and smartphone.
None of this should surprise us. The people are wonderful and horrible. The network we have built for ourselves serves both the honest and the liar. But we have no infrastructure to manage a planet of thieves.
Navigating through these things goes far beyond the “whistleblower”, into the darkest secrets of phishing and social engineering. No longer is an African prince offering you a hundred million dollars for your aid; She is a customer who has carefully recorded all of her transactions and registration numbers on a Word document which she has attached to a very useful email.
Security has been stretched to the breaking point. If things continue the way they do, the costs of connectivity may start to outweigh the benefits, and at this point, the post-web civilization of sharing and knowledge, already in the process of sinking. erode, would take place in a global way, while people and companies withdraw behind defensible perimeters and call one day.
All of this served as a subtext – never spoken, but always in mind – at the 26th International Conference on the World Wide Web. In a broader sense, this is all the fault of the Web – the shadow of its sharing culture – so could it be a problem that the Web can solve?
This question obsessed the hundreds of doctoral students in research who presented articles and posters at the conference. To the extent that articles presented by the main web research community are a reliable indicator of the future direction of the web, this future focuses on learning how to detect lies.
Detecting fake ads, bullies and bots – all of this can be done with machine learning. It can even be applied to tweets from a politician – to find out if they fumbled where they were, and when.
This wave of research brings us back to one of the oldest computer problems – the Turing test. Can you detect if someone at the other end of a text connection is a person or a computer? What questions do you ask? How do you analyze their responses? Take these same ideas and apply them to a supplier on Alibaba or to a Twitter account – ask the questions, analyze and survey – then decide: truth or lies.
While Sir Tim Berners-Lee won the ACM A.M. Turing Award last week, the timing of this next development on his web couldn't be more appropriate. The web needs to develop a meta-layer for verifying errors and truth. This will likely slow things down a bit, although it does help us feel more confident that the fake can be removed.
This will never be as true as we would like. As soon as a lie detection system rolls out on a large scale, the less honest and the more intelligent will get to work to undermine this algorithmic determination of truth, find its weaknesses and exploit them. It has always been so; in the long run, the search for the will to truth has always been an act of perseverance and dedication.
Machines can help us in this battle – but machines will be used on both sides, deceiving and revealing deception. Still, there is hope: there is too much money on the table to allow the forces of darkness to take over. Chaos is bad for business.
Any alignment of trade with the greater good is a rare and powerful combination, which means that the resources to wage this battle will be available for the foreseeable future. These graduate students with their fraud and robot detection algorithms will be captured by these giant companies whose profits depend on a web that is sufficiently truthful for commerce. As far as the truth is concerned, what is good for Google and Facebook is good for the rest of us.