A real-time web app wants to take the pundits out of the process.
One of the best things about presidential debates is their spontaneity: They test how candidates perform, relatively unscripted, before a live national audience. And one of the worst things about presidential debates is ... their spontaneity, since debates test how candidates perform, relatively unscripted, before a live national audience. For all that we gain from seeing candidates speak without the benefit of Teleprompters and index cards, the format can emphasize performance over substance. Pundits, and viewers along with them, often focus on theatrical minutiae -- audible sighs, visible watch-checks -- over the words being exchanged.
A group of programmers wants to fix that. And they want to do the fixing, actually, with words. Sosolimited and the Creators Project have written an algorithm that live-transcribes each presidential debate to create what they call "a second lens into the debate." The re/construct web app creates a transcript of the proceedings and analyzes it in pretty much real time -- identifying frequently used words and phrases, highlighting trending topics, and, intriguingly, emphasizing the deceptiveness and authenticity of the candidates as they're speaking. (To do that, the algorithm compares candidates' use of language to typical clues for lying and truth-telling: the use of the word "I," the use of the word "we," etc.) The algorithm compares Obama and Romney both to each other and to candidates from past debates to give viewers a sense of how their words relate to each other.