Walter Bender shared an example of how technology can enhance a person’s understanding of the content of news stories by providing context.

Sara Elo, who was a student from Finland, got to MIT and was appalled by the quality of international news coverage in the United States and decided to do something about it. She put together this system called PLUM, which stands for peace, love and understanding machine. It will read the wire stories and say, okay, this is a story about a flood in China. The program will analyze the story and build an action/ actor relationship model.

I read a Reuters’ story, “Flood in China: 250,000 acres of farmland have been flooded,” and I don’t have any idea what that figure of 250,000 acres means. What PLUM will do is say, “Okay, Walter. You’re from Boston. Let me make an analogy. That’s as if everything inside of Route 128 is under water.” It gives you the ability to begin to build these analogies, build relationships, make comparisons, and share stories from place to place.

We did something similar, though much simpler, with the weather. You read the paper and it will tell you the weather is going to be in the 40’s. And if you’re from Phoenix, then “in the 40’s” sounds real cold. And if you’re from Quebec, “in the 40’s” is balmy. What it would do is automatically look at where you’re from and qualify the story with some context.

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