Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sentiment Analysis

Chris Floyd:
"As with so many of the Bush measures that have quietly stripped away America's liberties, this one too is beginning with a whimper, not a bang: a modest $2.4 Department of Homeland Security million grant to develop 'sentiment analysis' software that will allow the government's 'security organs' to sift millions of articles for 'negative opinions of the United States or its leaders in newspapers and other publications overseas,' as the New York Times reported earlier this month. Such negative opinions must be caught and catalogued because they could pose 'potential threats to the nation,' security apparatchiks told the Times.

This hydra-headed snooping program is based on 'information extraction,' which, as a chipper PR piece from Cornell tells us, is a process by which 'computers scan text to find meaning in natural language,' rather than the rigid literalism ordinarily demanded by silicon cogitators. Under the gentle tutelage of Homeland Security, the universities 'will use machine-learning algorithms to give computers examples of text expressing both fact and opinion and teach them to tell the difference,' says the Cornell blurb.

At this point, the ancient and ever-pertinent question of Pontius Pilate comes to mind: 'What is truth?' Of course, Pilate, being a devotee of what George W. Bush likes to call 'the path of action,' gave the answer to his philosophical inquiry in brute physical form: truth is whatever the empire says it is - so take this Galilean rabble-rouser out and crucify him already. In like manner, it will certainly be the government 'security organs' who ultimately determine the criteria for what is fact and what is opinion - and whether the latter is positive or negative, perhaps even a candidate for the Bush-Pilate 'path.'"


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