Can a Language Analytics Platform Determine the Winner of a Presidential Debate?

Eric Carter, October 18th, 2012

Last night two presidential candidates fought it out for the second debate before the 2012 election. Today, voters ask the natural question: who won the debate? As usual, the answer depends on who is asked. One side of the media reports that Romney won. Not shockingly, the other side boasts that Obama won. What if we could rely on technology to provide an unbiased, objective report on the outcome of the debate? Introducing ReConstitution 2012 (created by a partnership between SoSo Limited, Vice, and Intel’s The Creator’s Project). In a nutshell, ReConsitution 2012 is:

“a live web app linked to the US Presidential Debates. During and after the three debates, language used by the candidates generates a live graphical map of the events. Algorithms track the psychological states of Romney and Obama and compare them to past candidates. The app allows the user to get beyond the punditry and discover the hidden meaning in the words chosen by the candidates.”

SoSo Limited’s John Rothenberg describes the need and value underlying the platform:

“There’s rarely an event that’s totally based around language that’s watched simultaneously and live by 50 million people…. There’s a whole industry of media punditry around it, and who won the debate is decided without any real data. It’s just a bunch of subjective opinions that get hashed around and crystallized.”

The brain trust behind ReConstitution 2012 include an eclectic group of developers, linguists, psychologists, political scientists, and others that dig beyond the showmanship of debate and attempt to derive deeper insight through the chosen words of the transcripts. I personally followed the real-time transcript provided by the platform and was intrigued by the graphical depictions captured by the analytical engine.

In the future, SoSo Limited and the Creator’s Project intend to offer an open-source version of the code. The code will provide an API that developers can use to gain psychological insight into from language analysis. Perhaps the engine cannot tell us who actually wins a debate; however, it can certainly shed light on what’s going on inside the candidates’ head (e.g. honesty, rage, positivity, etc.) and presents an alternative take on the traditional, subjective view of a speech or debate.

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