BBC Future

60 Second Idea

A lie detector on your phone

In an age of misinformation, fact-checking apps for our smartphones and computers could tell us when we’re being told lies.

Each week on The Forum, a global thinker from the worlds of philosophy, science, psychology or the arts is given a minute to put forward a radical, inspiring or controversial idea – no matter how improbable – that they believe would change the world.

This week, professor of globalisation and development Ian Goldin of the University of Oxford proposes fact-checking applications for our smartphones and computers that would warn us when we’re being told something that’s not true.

“Politicians, media pundits, writers and students get away with claims that are not based on fact.

If I was ruler of the world for a day, I would install fact-checker apps into our smartphones, into our computers, so that when facts were broken, when people told lies, or told mistruths, our phones went “Brrrrrrrr!” or the lines on our computer screen popped up in red. That way, we’d know what was fact and what was fiction.

Of course, I wouldn’t apply it to everyone. I wouldn’t apply it to poets, to novelists and others who specialise in imaginary ideas. My aim is to ensure that we benefit from the age of the internet of things to have an internet of facts and ideas, and through this we would hopefully get away from the infuriating falsehoods that are being widely disseminated.

Over time, good ideas would be spread far and wide, and bad ideas would be seen as a joke, rather than being the source of misinformation and perpetuating ignorance.”

You can listen to Ian discuss his idea with Freakonomics author Steven Levitt and futurist Anne Lise Kjaer in more detail on the BBC World Service programme The Forum, where you can also download more 60-second ideas.