To tell the truth


Reading this week’s Economist article on new algorithms for generating audio and video content, I was really struck by the speed with which the assumptions we teach our students have to be questioned.

As the techy types interviewed in the piece argue, it’s only a question of time before it will be possible for anyone to generate any content they like; to get anybody to say anything you want them to.

While that might have some benefits – the technology will allow us to identify such fake content more easily too – it’s also clear that our traditional reliance on content as a repository of ‘truth’ is under attack.

More prosaically, we all have enough trouble as it is with our students’ (and (sometimes) colleagues’) inability to make critical judgements about the veracity of sources: if you doubt me, come and spend an hour or two on Twitter.

At the very least, it behoves us to consider how we adapt to a political and media landscape where any and all content has to be treated with extreme caution.

Part of it will be about reflecting on the general quality and integrity of the source: as we all know, that changes over time and often varies across subject matter. A ‘trusted source’ isn’t always a trusted source.

Secondly, it means getting students to be more rigorous about triangulating information, finding independent corroboration for material.

But mostly, it requires a more dynamic consideration of what constitutes ‘proof’. As a general rule of thumb, extraordinary claims need extraordinary proof, and the other things I’ve just mentioned should come into play all the more.

However, in the dynamic technological environment in which we operate – and Politics is a subject that has to operate there, more than other disciplines – we need to recognise that such things apply all of the time.

In short, you need to keep your guard up and your eyes open.