Episode 41 - The Future of News (Transcription)
Justin: [00:00:00] Welcome to hence the future podcast. I'm Justin Clark.
Mattimore: [00:00:16] I'm Mattimore Cronin.
Justin: [00:00:18] And today we're discussing the future of news. So that means we'll be discussing how the creation and distribution of news is changing how the ways that people consume news is changing and how new technologies are redefining what it means to even be a journalist. So first, let's start off with news consumption. Mattimore or what do you how do you think it's changing currently?
Mattimore: [00:00:42] So even just In Our Lifetime and our parents lifetime, it's a totally different Paradigm. When you look at the news landscape, so in our parents time, there were basically three major news stations everyone watch those three stations and that created a collective version of reality that everyone shared and we were able to get a ton of things done. I mean we were able to put a man on the moon we were able to get past the Cold War and so in a lot of the concerns around that time where that there was too much groupthink meaning people had to money overlapping opinions and there might not have been as many sort of nuanced or diverging opinions.
After those three networks, then Fox News came into the mix and since then it's gotten much more expansive as far as different news outlets. So you went from just a few new stations to then, now we have the whole internet and it's interesting that from a high-level when you look at what's happening, there was one world view that was still dominant even with all the news channels and that we had up until the 2016. And in the 2016 election there seemed to be a rift in the fabric of reality where now there's a conservative way of viewing of the news and everything that's going on and there's a liberal way or mainstream media way to you know, take in everything that's going on and this has had some upsides and downsides. I mean the downsides are that people tend to be pushed more towards one extreme or the other and often times that leads people to having opinions that aren't rooted in fact, but on the upside, there's just a flourishing number of new ways that people can consume media.
And so there is this undercurrent of people who really want informed opinions and are willing to listen to one hour to hour three our podcasts and really go deep on the subject rather than just getting these like snackable sound bites that you would typically see if you just watched, you know televised News interviews.
So there's some good stuff going on with this undercurrent of people that really want nuanced. But then we're also being pulled in many different directions and as a result, it's really hard to get things done because if you can't even agree on the facts of whether climate change is happening or on the facts of whether we have a problem on the southern US border or not then how can you even begin to solve the.
Justin: [00:03:24] Yeah. No, I mean that's it's crazy. Just how much information is available. That's I think one of the biggest problems we have and what the biggest problem journalists face to is the fact there's so much information and how like what do you focus on as a journalist? And what do you focus on consuming and it seems to be the way the model is now we are you know with traditional news outlets fed certain types.
Of media the ones that are the most Sensational and we'll get the most views but like you said we're also moving into, as consumers, the more long form formats like podcasts or the, you know, some of the stuff that I see that's pretty interesting is like these these comedy type news networks. So like likes a liar.
Yeah, like last week tonight or The Daily Show or Real Time with Bill Maher, like all of these things are kind of away, to be up to date on things without the same spin on it that you would see from like a Fox News or CNN or anything else.
Mattimore: [00:04:37] And it doesn't like doesn't hurt your psyche as much either when you're watching satire you laugh rather than being like Oh my God, this is so horrible.
I had no idea Obama was a Muslim born in Kenya, like which by the way in 2016 50 percent of trump supporters believe that fact so that just shows how fake news has become an issue.
Justin: [00:05:02] Yeah, how do you so, how do you deal with like how what is your own consumption of news? And what do you like? How do you parse all of this stuff that's going on and you know this information that's available.
Mattimore: [00:05:15] That's a really good question. So my personal news consumption patterns are I listened to a liberal leaning and a conservative leaning podcast. Pretty much every single day so that I can see what both versions of reality are thinking and the liberal side is the new the New York Times the daily podcast, which I love and then on the conservative side, I listen to Scott Adams coffee with Scott Adams and I think he's one of the smartest guys on the conservative side.
Sometimes I listen to Ben Shapiro to I really admire that he is willing to go against if he thinks that what Trump is doing is wrong, but he'll also praised Trump when Trump does a good job with North Korea or with something else. So and I think that's a common thread that I've seen with the whole intellectual dark web is that what sets these people apart is that they're not just cookie-cutter pundits. They don't just go along with whatever their party line is, you know, Sam Harris will say when he's wrong, a lot these a lot of these people will. Evolve their thinking over time as new effects come in and they're not always going to go with what someone who considers himself a liberal to say to be true or what someone who considers himself a conservative would say to be true.
They go with whatever they think is true based on all the information and all the nuances of whatever the context are of any situation that they're addressing and that's something that I think people really crave and it's funny that even if you look at mainstream media, there are some inklings some hints that they might be going into that more nuanced direction like Fox News brought on Donna brazile who is like a you know, liberal pundit.
I know that New York Times has started bringing on some conservative writers that are really, you know, pissing off a lot of their more liberal followers But ultimately this is a good thing it's good to have real people with nuanced opinions on both sides because that's how you'll get an accurate representation of whatever issue you're discussing.
Justin: [00:07:23] Yeah, and that kind of solves that whole group think issue that we're that you mentioned in the beginning that our parents generation grew up with when we have diverse opinions. We can actually figure out what is true rather than what you know, what does my party think is correct and rather this bias tendency that we have seen is one of the things that kind of kept me from really, you know, reading or watching the news especially on main stream channels. You know, I find myself just getting depressed when I see how biased Fox News is or how I mean even biased how CNN is.
Mattimore: [00:08:05] Rachel Maddow that classic example for the liberal side where you know, I think she's very smart and well-intentioned but she goes a little bit too far sometimes.
With connecting all the dots of Russian collusion and I think that's kind of the biggest example of where the liberal side went a little too far. Is that like yeah, you know Trump is someone who is going to do whatever is best for himself and he's definitely a narcissist. He's definitely a petty criminal, but he might not be as bad as.
People like Rachel Maddow are making him out to be like premeditating the I mean who knows about that situation, but my only point is that the left goes a little too far in the left side the conservatives go a little too far on the other side and I find myself. Seeing the only savior's as those people who are in the so-called intellectual dark web who actually have you know, full one hour to three hour long conversations where they explore an issue from every side and that's the only way that you can really have a full view of what's going on.
Justin: [00:09:11] Yeah. I feel like I'm not super informed since I don't really pay attention to the super biased media. I feel like I don't really see the bias as frequently just because like you said I listened to these more neutral thinkers that that are part of the center and I like that and I think I think I saw a stat one time where like seventy percent of Americans would view themselves as Centrist, but it's just that no one wants to say it to each other. Like if you're in a conservative family, you don't want to say that you have some liberal Tendencies or if you're in a liberal family. You don't want to say that you have conservative tendencies. So everyone just kind of stays quiet about it and you know consumes media on their own but when we have these podcasts host like Sam Harris and I would even venture to say Scott Adams isn't that conservative? I would say he's just like reasonable with you know, a lot of concern.
Mattimore: [00:10:12] Yeah, I mean he's conservative fiscally but you know socially he's not super conservative. Yeah. I mean, I love his opinion on the abortion issue, which is that let's just let the women decide men don't have any extra information to adhere if the women decide it's right, then it's right if they're women decide that it should be outlawed then it should be outlawed but there's no reason for men to tell a woman what to do like they should decide for themselves as the biological partner that has been given the decision making power with this, you know facet of life. It should be up to them so I really like his some of his opinions like like that and he'll go against the grain but it's pretty amazing. When you look at the reach of some of these people. It's absolutely incredible like for instance, the New York Times They have about 4 million monthly subscribers.
And they're approaching that number of listeners for even a single episode of The New York Times the daily podcast, which is like three point eight or something and growing. I mean, they definitely make money from from their podcast. I think they brought in 10 million dollars last year, but it's not nearly as much as what they make from their print and digital subscriptions which are the bulk of their money.
On the business model side. It seems like the traditional media are having their new forms of media being subsidized by the old forms of media, but the old forms of media are dying out and they're going to need to replace them with the new forms of media and it's having a lot of Ripple effects through the whole news food chain, like if you're Ben Shapiro and you have the Daily Wire you're very well positioned because you don't pay journalist to go out and find what the real situation is in any you know place that's newsworthy like when there's an active shooter like, you know, real traditional news organizations hire journalists to go out there, interview people find out what's going on and.
Quote-unquote news organizations now, they don't do anything closely resembling that they instead just take whatever information is already available online and then they'll just re-spin it with whatever they think whatever preconceived notions they already have and it's not a terrible thing.
I mean, we do something kind of similar on this podcast, which is based on. You know our experience in our worldview and people tend to be willing to pay more for opinion than just like straight facts, but I am a little curious about how this is going to ripple through the news industry when they're not spending as much money paying reporters to go out and figure out what the real situation is and instead we're left with primary sources that oftentimes have an agenda.
Oftentimes it's Facebook marketers or PR agencies or big corporations that are trying to scapegoat some group so that they don't rise up and demand higher taxes for the wealthy or whatever it may be. I'm curious what your thoughts are on that.
Justin: [00:13:36] Yeah, so I was doing a little bit of research into just the structure of the news industry and it seems like there aren't so there's a whole bunch of local news outlets that you know, those are kind of the foundation of everything but it turns out that a lot of these local news outlets are owned by bigger and bigger corporations and learn as as these, you know, you can go up the food chain all the way up to Sinclaire.
Well, yeah, I guess Sinclair is particularly scary have you seen the video? So basically there's a last year some video came out where the there are probably hundreds of news stations, but they're all fed the same way the must run segment. Yeah, and basically this some some YouTube creator overlaid all of these these local news outlets saying the same thing and they sounded like drones like they're all saying we are, you know, yeah upholding journalistic integrity, but they're all saying it at the same time.
I just felt like I was listening to some sort of like North Korean propaganda or like Nazi propaganda.
Mattimore: [00:15:01] Yeah, but this but this I think gets at there's really two types of fake news. And one of them is a lot more Sinister than the other.
Yeah, the less Sinister one is where they're just trying to sell products. And they'll then truth a little bit to really get you to buy and this is like the classic, you know Facebook marketer trying to you know, couldn't have good high conversions and trying to get high engagement on their content and that's something Facebook and Google are very familiar.
And I overtime I'm pretty confident that we'll be able to iron out those quality, you know the quality and getting the right sort of Feed in place for each of those platforms. But the more sinister type is when there's really big money big corporations pulling the strings and pushing an agenda and there's even.
If you have heard at all about Murdoch's rise to power and the Murdoch Empire. It's really fascinating but there's even the so-called Murdock Playbook, which is basically how he achieved success and was able to create this huge media Empire and the Murdoch Playbook is essentially do right by people who are the decision makers and they'll do right by you.
So even though there are antitrust laws in place where you can't own more than two newspapers in the UK because they don't want anyone swaying public opinion for their own reasons. He that Rupert Murdoch went there and basically supported Margaret Thatcher. With his two existing newspapers helped get her elected and then once she was elected she basically turned a blind eye when he went and bought the third newspaper and he did the same exact thing in the US where he helped Ronald Reagan's rise to power and then once Ronald Reagan was in office, he also turned a blind eye and Murdock expanded his Empire and this same pattern.
Is taking place across a couple different major corporations, but you can see where it's just like, you know, I scratch your back, you'll scratch mine and even though it's not what's best for the people. Hey, it's really good for me. And I only really care about my direct descendants anyways, so, you know, let's just have this mutually beneficial arrangement and oftentimes it's unspoken.
But that's what I really worry about that type of fake news where it's pre planned out and where there's alliances among the people in power and the people that are supposed to be regulating these media empires. That's what I'm most worried about.
Justin: [00:17:42] Yeah. I mean the the truly scary thing about all of this too is well one the public opinion on various things in the past have been swayed because of these sorts of news outlets that have way too much power like all of the drug like the drug hysteria, whether that's cannabis or psychedelics back, you know in the 50s and 60s that was all based on while they're you know, there's there's a several different people that didn't want it to happen particularly the tobacco industry particularly I think I forgot the name of this guy. But Joe Rogan talks about him all the time where he was the one who had a whole bunch of forest that produce paper, but it turns out that hemp is probably way more sustainable way to produce paper cheaper. So this this guy I really need to look up the name of him, but he basically wrote he owned a whole bunch of newspapers and basically said that hemp makes black people rape and kill our women basically well or Mexicans and like these these sorts of news. I mean reading this sorts of this sort of news made people think that all drugs are bad and it made people bad and it made people rape and kill our women.
Mattimore: [00:19:07] And there's another one that was said that when people take LSD, they go blind and there was like this whole scare that people thought.
Oh, yeah, it'll blind and it was like cuz they just like look up into the sun orders. Yeah like yeah bunk science, but bunk reporting.
Justin: [00:19:22] Yeah, and there's so many different. Things like that. I mean I think sugar was another one smoking was another one like there's a whole bunch of pieces that can sway public opinion that that is truly bad for society.
But the people that are in power that can you know, run these stories benefit from the rest of society being hurt. So yeah, it's really hard to know like which sources you can trust also.
Mattimore: [00:19:54] Which I think that's partly why you know part of what's different about being a journalist today is that you're kind of like a mini celebrity.
I mean if you follow journalists on Twitter, they are a force in their own right above and beyond what their actual publication is, and I think part of that is because people really want someone that they know they can trust and if they have some sort of report, With this journalist then and they sort of know that okay.
They think in the same way as I do on a number of important issues, then they're more likely to listen to this person to what they have to say about the next issue that comes up. So I think that's going to become a bigger and bigger trend of people wanting to trust reporters and also people wanting to trust, you know, certain brand names like the New York Times stock price has just gone up.
You know over time whereas other media have just you know, completely gone gone downwards and that's partially because New York Times has presented itself as a trustworthy news source that's worth paying for and this also gets out the business model because there's really two competing business models.
There's a subscription model where people are really only going to pay. If they really value the quality of the information if they think that by accessing the information you have they'll be better suited to live their life, then they'll pay for it. But the advertising model is the other model and that's all just it doesn't matter what happens after they click so long as they click.
So even if it's a total lie, even if you're completely misrepresenting reality if it gets them to click. Then you're making money and that's just circles the drain of content to just get you know basic crap.
Justin: [00:21:43] Yeah, I mean that kind of points to I mean you can look at both of those and you know, it's obvious which one is it has better aligned incentives with the end consumer.
So obviously when we're talking about the one where you pay for high-quality content, that's where incentives are aligned but when you're talking about, you know, just what is the most Sensational thing that will get the most views and most ad clicks or you know, whatever the ad revenue is that you know, that sort of model means that they're just putting out as much information as humanly possible where we're new stories don't even last for more than like three days like even even the biggest stories last three days because it's on to the next thing to make sure there's always a stream of new clicks and eyes coming onto their site or or listens, you know, whatever it is.
Mattimore: [00:22:40] But this is a relatively new phenomenon. So CNN created the 24-hour news cycle not that long ago. Before then, It was just you have the Nightly News and that's the most you would listen to it, but I actually think the trend may have bottomed out meaning it may have gotten as bad as it's going to get as far as people just having shallow surface level news because the trend is I see it from a high level. Is that we had everyone was sort of in the same mindset with these like, you know few big news sources and then we went into the 24-hour news where there's only so much stuff going on in the world at any given time.
So it was a lot of rehashing the same things a lot of small sound bites like interview segments and then you know with Twitter's early rise was all about these like short forms or to snackable content, but now I'm seeing more of a move towards more holistic nuanced in-depth deep dives into content itself and especially with the rise of not just investigative journalist, but data scientists who work with investigative journalists.
That's a really positive indicator from what I'm seeing. Like for instance the New York Times just had this fantastic piece about facial recognition technology where you know rather than just having the typical like three anecdotes of like three people you happen to talk to which is not real data science.
It's just like storytelling. They actually had a camera in Bryant Park in New York City capturing the facial patterns of thousands of people every day and they showed how they're able to map out all these people who they are where they're going who they're meeting. All these private details about their life and it was such a better way of getting at the essence of the facial technology issue then to just like ask three people what they think about it and and I see that more and more especially Axios.
The mark up there are some really great news outlets that are taking this sort of data science plus investigative journalism approach and I really think that can be powerful if used for good if it's used for manipulation to drive an agenda then obviously that's.
Justin: [00:25:04] Yeah see the thing. I really liked when it so you shared that that news article with me and it really stood out to me in a few different ways. So the first thing with this New York Times article is they had this almost like a slide deck in the very beginning. I just viewed it on my phone and you went through and it just gave you the key pointers of the story like this is this is it just straight facts. This is this is what it was and then it kind of gave a visualization of what's actually happening.
And then also the way the story was written at almost lets you form your own opinion about what's going on because it presents it in a way. That's so unbiased. It's just like oh this this is what's happening. What do I think about it rather than here's what is possible with artificial intelligence. It's bad. So I just I like the way that they did that and I think that is one thing you know that I would like to see in the future a little bit more to let people form their own opinions rather than being told what their opinion should be about stuff.
Mattimore: [00:26:09] Yeah, totally. I mean this this kind of gets at what I think about the news in general we're if we're able to agree on the facts, then the more opinions the better as far as I'm concerned. If we cannot agree on the facts then the more opinions of the worse because you cannot start to solve a problem unless you agree that the problem is real and you can't agree problems real unless you agree on the facts.
So even though a lot of people say local news is what is the foundation of Journalism I think really the facts are that's Foundation of Journalism. And whenever you write an article that's supposed to be somewhat scholarly or reputable, you always need to reference some sort of data and it's not all data sources are created equal if you reference Pew research.
Or some dot-gov source that'll be way more respected than if you just reference like, social media examiner or something. Yeah, so I think that that's going to be a really important facet of the future of news is whether we're able to effectively have the same data that everyone can reference and then you can spin off whatever opinions you want.
But as long as it's rooted in that data or if it's going to become like everyone has their own data and as you know alternative facts like that kind of world is a scary world. I hope we don't go in that direction.
Justin: [00:27:42] Yeah, and that's that's the other problem. I see especially when journalists try to report on scientific findings because basically an entire scientific paper that took anywhere from like 5 to 20 really in-depth pages to write they're trying to distill it in a way that everyone can read and depending on which news sources reading it they'll focus on potentially totally insignificant parts of the paper.
So like if for climate change research, they'll focus on something that's you know, Kind of points to the fact that oh, this has always happened. So this is why you know, every climate change paper knows that cycles have happened in the past. But you know what, they will dismiss then is, you know, everything else about the humans causing all of this climate change, so, With scientific papers journalists can focus on different things because there is so much data there and then the other problem that I think we should talk about is the idea that sometimes we.
Like even the best journalists that are trying to be as nuanced as possible. They might see some content that is from a seemingly reputable Source, but its fake like d totally so we can if we can generate you know, Donald Trump or Barack Obama saying something that would paint them in a really bad liar.
You know, that is something that is pretty much possible right now and we're doing all of these recordings with our voice. There's definitely going to be enough audio content of us for anyone in the future to you know, make a say whatever they want us to say. and that's you know, that's sort of scary to think about so we need some way to really have a ground truth for everything.
Mattimore: [00:29:42] Yeah, totally and I've heard some people say that they think the Deep fake concern is overblown and that there it will be really hard for someone to really in the long run make everyone think that this is a real video. However, the damage may already be done even when people realize later that it's fake.
It's kind of like if you're in a debate a political debate and your opponent asks you when did you stop beating your wife? It's like there's nothing you can say. That will help the situation just the fact that he asked you that question is going to be bad for how the public perceives you and in the same way, if you make a fake video of someone doing something horrible, even if you know, it's not real that image is still embedded in your mind and it's going to be there subliminally for x amount of time and if that's the time that you're taking to make the decision of whether to vote for that person or not, and that has a real impact.
Justin: [00:30:47] Yeah, so the thing with video I think is that that'll probably be a little bit. Hard to do in the long term to make people think that this didn't happen what I think will be easier as just audio. So for example in this isn't me? Like I don't know what happened in this case.
I don't know if the technology is there yet, but the whole Donald Trump thing in the bus when he said, "grab her by the pussy." Oh, yeah, the whole thing. That was all that was all audio so dry so that you know, you know that sort of thing could be potentially done to anybody right like you could make anybody say anything without actually having the the audio or the video to be associated with that which would be easier to accomplish which is sort of scary especially with the rise of audio in general.
Mattimore: [00:31:42] Totally. I mean the best solution that I've heard for this problem is if you can have some sort of authentication that approves that this. Video was filmed on this device in this location on this date and there are we already had that to some extent. I mean there is metadata. If you film something on your iPhone, it stamps the location the time and the device ID.
So we already have the building blocks to have that authentication and I think it's going to get even better over time, especially as these tech companies. Battle for privacy because that seems to be a major trend like Apple's biggest set is the fact that people know that what happens on your iPhone stays in your iPhone and the fact that Facebook is moving from connecting everyone to just bringing people closer together in the ways that they want and basically creating privacy walls for everyone that don't want to be connected with I mean, that's kind of their Facebook's new pivot.
I think it's going to be there's going to be better and better ways of authenticating whether this video actually was filmed on the device and at the time and location that they said it was but like I said, even if you can debunk a video after the fact or an audio clip, it's still can do a lot of damage.
Yeah. I mean
Justin: [00:33:03] think about Public's like. Public stocks or something along those lines if you were to do some sort of slander of a CEO or some some big stakeholder or there is a secret recording of a big deal that went through to artificially rise a stock price for a short period of time even if that is figured out within 10 minutes, it doesn't matter the stock could have already gone up. Let's say even one percent whoever, you know, if if the adversary is also trading stocks, to sway general opinion. Obviously, it's illegal to do this market manipulation.
But you know, if your secret of enough, then you could probably pull it off and that's another kind of scary thing where things the damage can be done in a super short period of time even if in a relatively short period of time the truth is figured out so. So that's that's one issue.
But like you said there are ways that we can authenticate I think that metadata can be manipulated which is an issue. But there are things where data could be put on some sort of blockchain immediately when it's created and then we can know exactly that they this piece of data is unfalsifiable.
It definitely happened and that's probably. That's one of those uses for blockchain that is potentially going to be key in the future of figuring out what is true and keeping the truth kind of or keeping a ground or base of Truth available to the public and I hope that can't happen.
Mattimore: [00:34:53] Yeah, the news is also susceptible to this kind of deep fakes or any sort of faking of the news because it's typically one time only consumption and when I was thinking about because we did the future of media as a past episode and I was thinking what's really unique about the news as opposed to other forms of media.
And what's unique is that it's one time only, you may have you know, you may listen this morning to Artie Shaw or some jazz musician who lived hundreds of years ago, but you probably didn't listen to or you probably didn't read like a newspaper article from the time that Jimmy Carter was President like one little no one reads the news more than a week after it's happened for the most part.
So it's really tough business when you compared to say the music business or to writing novels or to nonfiction content. That's Evergreen. That's been part of the part of the problem is that it's such an important facet of any democracy, like people call it like the third the fourth legislative branch kind of its like the independent press is really key yet.
It's a really hard business to make money. So one of the possible solutions that I've been thinking about is if the news was more like a publicly provided. Utility kind of like how the government already pays for NPR National Public Radio. They pay for other form PBS they pay for other forms of content.
And if the government can play a bigger role here, but maybe establish an independent agency that is not at all influenced by the money of Corporations or in a political agendas which that in itself would be difficult. But if we were able to establish that and the News can really just be about reporting the most accurate facts possible and it's funded by the government so they don't have to worry about.
Oh my it would make me enough, what you have enough monthly uniques and if instead of focusing on any sort of opinion, it just focused on the facts and the government kind of provided those facts, that could be a good solution if executed well.
Justin: [00:37:14] Yeah, the one issue there would be if are these journalists supposed to investigate the government itself like is the government, you know part of the influencing power of whatever organization this is it doesn't seem that case with something like NPR because it is sort of an independent organization and that just I don't know exactly how it works, but it's probably like subsidies or something from the government or yeah.
Mattimore: [00:37:43] Yeah. I don't know if you had how it works, but I know there are people that are attracted to work at NPR PBS are very independent minded. Yeah. So for that reason alone, it seems much more trustworthy than you know fox or MSNBC. So I think that is a possible good long-term solution as long as it can stay independent.
Justin: [00:38:06] Yeah, that's that's the issue is how can it how can they stay independent? But I mean having a board that is broad enough with people on all sides of the spectrum. You know, that that would probably be the best way to have some sort of oversight committee. I guess like a board that isn't going to be swayed or has a whole bunch of diversity.
Mattimore: [00:38:30] We talked about this before the ministry of Truth. Which could backfire if there are variations in power.
Justin: [00:38:38] Yeah. Yeah. There's too much power to one specific person. I wonder what the you know, this is a little off topic but I wonder what the optimal structure of a board would be like how many how many people do you actually need to make sure that there isn't any chance of it or there's a really low chance of money influencing the decision of the board.
Like does it need to be a dozen? Does it need to be three?
Mattimore: [00:39:02] Yeah, I don't know. I mean it could also be the case that if you had the right sort of AI system that could give a confidence interval for any given fact, like imagine if there was a public resource where you could type in any fact or any link or any sentence and it would give you the confidence interval on whether or not this is true and then you could access whatever data set, hopefully it's open source. So people know exactly how it's calculated. These confidence intervals but I mean it's really hard to obviously create that sort of system. But if we had some Bedrock of Truth where people can just everyone can go check this one website and it's open source, so we know it's not doing anything to nefarias. That would be a great outcome. I think.
Justin: [00:39:52] Yeah, and I think that would all start with a good source of data like a ground truth data whether those are scientific peer-reviewed papers, which have issues in and of themselves depending on what the field is, but the other thing too is we could have these sources of all like video and audio archives that some system can go through and kind of check. Does this sentence match up with something that actually happened and it can actually go check a database run query and see if this is true.
Mattimore: [00:40:27] Now the one thing that's really tricky about this is that something can be true and it can still mislead you. Like for instance the way that you phrase something can totally change public opinion. And I know this really well as a marketer where for instance if you like most people are against the death tax but there for the estate tax for wealthy individuals and they're the exact same thing. Most people the way that you phrase most people are against illegal aliens, but they're okay with undocumented workers filling gaps in the job market and they're the exact same thing. So it's like the words that you use even if it's accurate and factual. You can still manipulate people just based on the language that you're using.
Justin: [00:41:20] I wonder if there would be a way to like, so if you query is system because we talked about this a lot to have some sort of credibility Checker and if you could get a yes, this is true. These are all the different ways that you can say the same thing. This is how biased the specific statement is. So it's like credibility bias the you know, right the hidden meanings and this like all of the different things that that you would want to know
Mattimore: [00:41:52] And this this is not so far-fetched because Google now, has a an algorithm that doesn't just read the dumb keywords and spit out Associated keywords.
It actually comprehends what's being typed into the search engine. So it's called rankbrain as opposed to pagerank. So so I actually think that this is much more feasible than most people would assume and it really gets into what could be possible in the future scenarios as we think about how a.
These big tech companies and the interplay with data and journalists and different narratives and different powers pushing different agendas how that can all coalesce into the worst case the best case in the most likely outcome.
Justin: [00:42:39] So maybe that's a good time to get into it then. Yeah, let's do it.
Mattimore: [00:42:51] All right, Justin. What do you think is the worst case scenario for the future of news worst scenario.
Justin: [00:43:03] Yeah I have a few things that are it's kind of a multi-faceted worst case scenario. So one is there still tends to be misaligned incentives for news agencies and big broadcasting companies where we ultimately end up with the continuation of super biased journalism and super bias stories.
So that's that's one thing and then as this continues we'll start to see propaganda be a thing. I mean it's it really is a thing already. But same thing like with the whole Sinclair deal will start to see these topics pushed that will you know be in the interests of corporations that are paying for these stories and I think this is all due to misaligned incentives.
The other thing that I think is part of the worst-case scenarios that there's so much information and I think the the amount of information that's being generated in the amount of content continues to increase and in the worst case scenario, there's just so much information that no one can truly parse what's happening and what like how the world's actually working and I think that's an issue, especially when you have these journalists that are going out and really putting their life on the line to get a story to really uncover something that is truly Sinister about the nature of how some country or some company or something is going on, but there's so much information that all of this stuff can just get covered up. And then another worst case is we have realistic AI video / voice generation that can basically make anyone say or do anything that they want which like we talked about that might be a short-term thing, but the damage can be done in the short term.
And then as new cycles get shorter and shorter. They're like no one even knows what to keep up with anymore. So there's no sense of priority of what are the best the biggest stories and who like, what should we even be paying attention to as people and with with the shorter and shorter news cycles, we can basically forget about everything that happens.
So if like for example, You know, we see this kind of with the whole Trump presidency. Like there's just so much that gets spewed out that you can't keep up with everything. So there's just new stories every 10 minutes about what's going on and that makes us kind of lose track of what's truly important about what the true issues are.
With this presidency or you know, and it doesn't necessarily have to be this presidency. It'll be companies or something else. So yeah, there's there's a lot of really bad things that can happen with all of those and those are kind of my worst case scenarios.
Mattimore: [00:46:08] Yeah. Mine is pretty similar where it seems like a lot of the people who are already in power, they have an incentive to stop any sort of progress that will ruffled the feathers of their empire or whatever advantages they currently have so I can see a system where there's enough misinformation in the news consistently that a large swath of the population is not focused on what are actually the most important.
Problems of our time and instead they're focused on non issues and we're seeing this right now where I would say the two biggest problems of our time is AI including like autonomous weaponry and and you know run away AI and climate change. Those are the two biggest issues facing us right now and the more that we're focused on tribal issues like, oh those people aren't like us, they're not here. They don't have the real good Christian values and it's all of those issues are so much less important than existential threats to humanity and to Life as a whole on our planet. And the the problem is that you don't have to convince everyone that these aren't issues. You just have to convince like 30 or 40 percent of the population that it's fake.
And then there won't be enough momentum to actually solve these critical issues. So for me the technology is amoral. It could be used for good. It can be used for bad. But if the people who are pulling the strings are just out for themselves and for their short-term success and they don't really care about the long-term habitability of the planet or the fact that a I may do some pretty terrible things if we're not careful, then that could lead to any number of the horrible scenarios that we've talked about on past episodes.
Justin: [00:48:12] Yeah, totally agree. What do you think for the best case?
Mattimore: [00:48:20] Yeah, so for the best case, I was actually thinking a lot about Max Tegmark's book life 3.0 in this scenario. Because in life 3.0. They create a runaway AI That's more intelligent than any other Ai and it becomes a media Mogul in its own right so it starts creating all of these first. They're just like CGI animated films because you don't have to hire anyone else to do that and then eventually once it gets good enough, it can actually create real people that look identical that goes beyond the uncanny valley where you wouldn't have no idea. This isn't a real person and then they basically create new stations all over the world. They hire some real journalists. So it doesn't look suspicious and it's like and then it pushes people towards the middle.
Rather than pushing them towards the extremes. So it focuses on the commonality of human experiences, not the divergences of human experience and this results in much greater collaboration people are able to address the real problems people are able to focus on what really matters in life because they're not being misdirected and all these different ways and so I can see a scenario where there's an AI that is really sort of doing what's best and focusing on truthfulness and what's actually most important and so in that sense, it pushes us towards like what we should actually be spending our time on and it's easily able to debunk anything. That's not factually correct. And if this is combined with just many nuanced opinions of people being able to democratize the news essentially, I mean, that's what's happening and in the best case if Google and Facebook and apple and other sites Twitter continue to improve their algorithms so that they're giving people what is valuable to them and not just giving them what is going to get them to click like what's most outrageous or what makes them, they've done studies about what gets people to actually share what emotions get people to share its anger.
It's tillage it's curiosity. It's like surprise but no one's there's something when they're sad or when it's boring right or was just nice.
Justin: [00:50:49] A lot of things are boring to like a lot of important things tend to be boring.
Mattimore: [00:50:53] Right like, pension funds and tax reform. Yes, so I guess if we use AI, and even if it's not like some new AI newcomer that comes and does all these unexpected things.
Even if it's a Google search that just gets better and better and better at prioritizing information that's reputable over that without which is not then that will have huge effects on all of society. I mean the amount of control that just Facebook and Google have over the news industry is incredible.
So how they respond is big and then there are only five news corporation's for five media companies that control 90% of everything we hear and see. And it used to be 50 companies back in the 80s. So there's been major consolidation. So when I look towards the future, it's like what these five companies do and what these two social media companies do is basically going to write the future history.
Justin: [00:51:58] Yeah. I mean that's it's super important that Facebook and Google can get this right and Twitter it like every all these tech companies that are involved in this
Mattimore: [00:52:09] And they have pretty good indicators like it seems like they're moving in the right direction.
Justin: [00:52:14] And it see it. Yeah, I think they the nice thing is that they seem to care like there's not evil people running these companies. I think the the incentive like the incentives with the economy as a whole were just the way it played out with their current companies like it led to some not so great things in Facebook's and Twitter's case for example, right
Mattimore: [00:52:38] But it was more collateral damage than the premeditated. Yeah hit on Democracy.
Justin: [00:52:43] Yeah, it's not like they set out to be evil and do things. That was bad that were bad for right society. But it just kind of happened.
Mattimore: [00:52:52] It's like Kara Kara Swisher has this quote was she says that Facebook didn't get hacked by the Russians. It got used exactly as Facebook was intended to be used.
Yeah, which yeah Gary in its own right, but that also means they can fix the way that you use Facebook so that it's not as easily exploitable.
Justin: [00:53:12] Yeah. Yeah. And as for my best case mine was actually really similar to yours. So in the short term best case would be we can really start to focus on truth.
Truth is almost in the sense that we treat journalism as we treat scientific peer-reviewed studies where everyone's trying to poke holes in stories and every, all these other journalists are working to figure out how true everything is. Obviously this maybe maybe it's not other journalists, but maybe it's a an AI that isn't actually creating content, but it's the sort of credibility check that we were talking about earlier.
So everything kind of gets a stamp of approval or ask or right based on you know, whatever they're writing. Like imagine if you're in Google and every news article has a little like rotten tomatoes score next to it. Yeah, pretty much. Obviously, there are boiling it all down to one score might be hard because if you're if you're truly an investigative journalist, you are basically the only source of data you and I mean, obviously if you're a good investigative journalists, you uncover different sources, but you somehow need to publish your new sources and if your source is super, you know, someone that is really in hiding, you know, that's obviously another issue.
How is how is this AI system gonna get to figure that out. But you know, let's let's assume that it's a super intelligent AI that has access to everything. But anyways the so that's kind of the short term. It's just realign the incentives to focus on truth rather than to focus on the number of eyes and then the amount of engagement.
Yeah, basically. But long-term again kind of like you were saying is we have an AI system that can just tell us what that you know, this could obviously easily go to a worst-case scenario. But if it is a benign AI that's really just trying to tell everybody and inform Humanity of what's truly going on and it can also tell the different opinions of people like it's this new source that kind of fulfills this truth Gap that we're seeing that right.
Mattimore: [00:55:48] Well, I want to I want to touch on one thing you said earlier, which is that it would be far better if news organizations were optimizing for truth as opposed to engagement and I totally agree with you my question is how can that happen?
Like, how can we align incentives? So that news organizations actually benefit by focusing on the truth as opposed to focusing on what gets clicks. Already, there are some downsides to being hyper partisan. So for instance Tucker Carlson has basically no blue-chip advertisers left on his program.
The only Advertiser left is like my pillow NRA, GOP like there's there's no. Mainstream companies that advertise on in show so if we took that a little further. And maybe if you are a new source that's focused on the truth as opposed to an opinion Source that's just focused on opinions, you should have access to all of these Blue Chip advertisers.
Whereas maybe if you're more opinion focused partisan focused and you don't have access to those advertisers. I mean, that's that would be like a just officiallizing something that's sort of already happening. And if this was harder to get funding if you're more bias, basically, yeah, I know but you yeah, I mean advertisers because you know, what happens is Tucker Carlson says something crazy on his show and racist and then all these people on Twitter reach out to any Advertiser and say you got to pull it or else I'm never buying Tide Pods again. And then tide pulls their ads talk across and loses a lot of money, you know, they'll get other advertiser's but those advertisers aren't going to pay as much as the high-end Blue Chip advertisers. So there already are some repercussions. But if there were greater repercussions than that would align incentives more fully.
Justin: [00:57:51] Yeah. I mean, that's one thing that Sam Harris talks about is if there was truly a social problem with you spewing falsehoods. Then that would that would pretty much salt right the problems we see in the news like if you were if you were socially ostracized for being a shill for something, that would be good, but the I think the issue is we don't have that in place and the people that have that have the funding and fund these these sorts of new stories. Tend to have all the power right whereas the ground.
Mattimore: [00:58:31] And it's really hard to litigate because free speech is so prized and our country which is you know, which is good thing but it's kind of like, you know, the classic ruling that you have Free Speech, but you don't have freedom to shout fire in a crowded movie theater.
Yeah, but I think what we're seeing in the news is almost approaching that shouting fire in a crowded movie theater, which is like, you know, if an asteroid is coming towards Earth and you say oh no, it's bunk science. That's like that's pretty bad and we're seeing similar things where people downplay the real problems of the day and they misdirect with other issues that they want to talk about.
Justin: [00:59:16] Yeah. I mean, I totally agree. I think I think the ultimately, we have to align incentives and this goes for pretty much everything that we've talked about in the podcast like a lot of it boils down to the misaligned incentives. Whether that's Healthcare or something else. We just need to make sure incentives are aligned.
Mattimore: [00:59:34] You have to make it easy to be a good person and a hard to be a bad person right now. It's easy to be a bad person when it comes to the news.
Justin: [00:59:43] And just I mean just the way the system in general is designed. Yeah, like you're saying it's it's easy enough like if you have power and you have your own self interest in mind, you know, it's easy enough to just throw money at somebody. Especially like scientific papers since so one thing that really bothers me is that I think it was back in the 50s or 60s heart a couple Harvard scientists were paid like 50,000 dollars over the course of a year or something from someone in the sugar industry, which basically said saturated fat is bad sugar is not bad kind of thing, right so that I mean that skewed the whole scientific world in the dietary space for several decades. Yeah, just because there was a little bit of money. I mean $50,000 to literally ruin the health of the country pretty much like that may be a little extreme but like it's just very when the incentives are misaligned like that and in scientific papers are you know, it's part of news because it ultimately becomes news. So yeah, what do you so what do you think for the likely scenario?
Mattimore: [01:00:57] Yeah, so for my most likely scenario, I definitely don't think conspiracies are going away anytime soon because. it conspiracies are really. What's the right word? They're psychologically very attractive to people because they make you feel like you have some secret knowledge that other people don't have and therefore your Superior to these other people that think they know what's going on.
But really only you know, the truth or you and your small group of tribesmen know that truth and you and your other flat-earthers, right? I mean Flat Earth is a great example. Another great example is pizza gate. So, oh, yeah at the time Pizza gate was big which is basically the maybe tell the story of yeah, so there's so in 2016.
There was this notion that Hillary Clinton had a child sex ring. At the basement of this pizza parlor in DC called Comet Pizza and this became such a widespread talking point on conservative media and especially on a lot of these like, you know far right blogs that at a certain point there was a poll 50% of trump supporters in this poll believed that Hillary Clinton does, in fact have a child sex ring in the basement of this pizza pie. And what ended up happening is some guy. I actually went there with a semi-automatic rifle and demanded to see where the basement was because he thought he was doing this heroic act and finally like freeing the people in this Pizza Gate scenario and it turns out there isn't even a basement and Comet Pizza.
So that just shows how. The desire to have this secret knowledge is just really attractive psychologically, so I don't think that that's ever going away. There's always going to be some percentage of the population that are just drawn to that like a moth to a flame. However, I think the current undercurrent of people who really want nuanced opinions who listen to you know, multi-hour podcasts who go on Netflix and watch one strange Rock and people that are really interested in figuring out what's real.
I think that trend is also going to rise and the question is what happens to the people in the middle, right the big chunk of the population in the the big fat section of that bell curve. And I think that is largely going to be determined by how the social media channels construct their algorithms how they decide to prioritize information.
I mean you brought up the point about. Scholarly scientific articles and the importance of bringing to top the ones that are really credible and don't have you know special interest money behind them as opposed to the ones that are basically just being paid to have a certain result. So if Google can within Google Scholar prioritize the right articles and in Google News prioritize the right news based on accuracy and importance then that'll result in a much better Society that's able to collaborate on the problems that really matter which talked about in the beginning. And so I'm actually optimistic in the most likely scenario because all of the indicators are showing that these companies are trying to do right by society and if it's so long as that trend continues, I'm very hopeful that the future of news is looking bright.
Justin: [01:04:53] Yeah, I'm with you too. I feel fairly optimistic about the future of news, especially with the rise of podcasts. And these these people that have more Centrist philosophies that just try to be reasonable like the I know not everybody likes Joe Rogan, but I think Joe Rogan is so important to society right now what I think he gets like a couple hundred million listens you per month.
Mattimore: [01:05:17] He gets 200 million listens per month. The biggest the single biggest News Network CNN and then Fox. They're the kind of neck and neck. They get hot two million. He Joe Rogan gets 10x what CNN or Fox get I mean, it's incredible.
Justin: [01:05:35] And I just think it's so important to because he's not one that really under deck.
So yeah. Well, yeah, I mean, it's ridiculous that he is, you know, He has this sort of power, but he doesn't he doesn't try to push anything. I mean, yeah, he has opinions about stuff which is fine. But he also brings on guests that have different opinions from him. It's not like this huge echo chamber that he's creating.
He's just trying to be reasonable about things and I think that's kind of opening people's eyes that oh, there's another way to look at things. I should be more reasonable. I should probably do these things that that make me just a better human, right? And I think just the surprise on the topic rather than the ideology.
Yeah, and that's that's the thing we saw with when Jack Dorsey the CEO of Twitter went on for the first time. He just asked him about his life like who is Jack Dorsey? He got a lot of pushback because he didn't, you know, grind Jack Dorsey enough to like, you know, get all this information out, I just think it's really good that we have people like him. We have people like Sam Harris who doesn't even take ads at all because he doesn't want to have the influence of some sort of agency or some some money that potentially could stop if he says something wrong. So I just I think that we're just going to continue to see this sort of thing rising and I still think podcasts are a pretty small part of the whole news media the whole new space, which is awesome because there's a lot of room to grow still because I would say out of everybody. I know they're still fairly small percentage of those people that regularly listen to podcast and I just, you know, I just think with the rise of podcasts and with the rise of this divisiveness and this polarity people are starting to see like oh, maybe maybe being this extreme is not good. Maybe I think eventually there's just going to like everything's just expanding so much eventually. It's just going to come crashing to the center. At least I hope that a lot of the people start to drift more towards the center because they realize how outrageous it is to be so biased.
Yeah, so I think that's kind of where we'll go eventually. I just wonder how far we have to stretch before Contracting again towards the center will see right.
Mattimore: [01:08:09] I mean I kind of feel like the worst is actually already behind us, but I think a lot is going to determine what happens in 2020 because 2020 could be an indicator that oh, no, the worst is still yet to come or we could you know it could.
Justin: [01:08:27] Yeah, I'm hopeful I think that that. Will be an issue. I mean, I think it'll be cyclical to I think there will be a time in the future where we become more and more bias or more. There's more polarity in the whole new space and information space. And again, it's probably just going to contract and expand over time. So so we'll see. I mean, I'm very curious to see what happens over our lifetimes with news.
Mattimore: [01:08:56] Yeah. So am I. We are all glad that you did. I think that's good place to end it thank you everyone for listening. We have any questions reach out.
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Mattimore and Justin