Confrontational Computing: Empowering all users via the Web

Chicago (IL) – Yesterday, Intel Research Berkeley held its 2009 open house with some truly amazing people on hand to demonstrate their latest ideas and wares. Some of the presentations would amaze most anybody, but one in particular caught TG Daily’s eye. Have you ever read something on the web and knew for a fact that it was false? Or maybe there was something you had personal knowledge of and would like to expand upon the original author’s thoughts by adding your own knowledge to the article — even when comments aren’t available? Confrontational Computing affords web surfers the ability to do just — it’s like Wikipedia for the whole web.

Confrontational Computing: Think Link

Confrontational Computing is an idea put into action. It’s a concept that, like Wikipedia, the vast knowledge base of people on the web includes experts on every subject, or researchers on every subject which can bring additional facts together. Those expert voices which often go unheard today (due to the web’s limitations), through Confrontational Computing can be heard and given unto the world. In addition, there’s a voting system to raise or lower proposed ideas on both sides of debatable issues, such as global warming where there may be supporters and opponents.

The applied technology is called Think Link. It exists presently as a beta Firefox plug-in which highlights certain portions of website articles that are either in dispute, or have additional information provided previously to Think Link’s servers by other users.

Think Link presents a gateway or door into alternate viewpoints in both support and opposition to the original author’s content. Web surfers add viewpoints, comments, weblinks or other information to a particular webpage, or even to a paragraph, sentence or two within an article. This disputed material is then accessible via a Claim Graph which presents all viewpoints accumulated on that section to date. Like Digg and other similar websites, a voting system allows regular users who read the claims made and vote them up or down based on their believability, allowing outrageous (or politically motivated) ideas to be pushed down by the herd.

READ ON NEXT PAGE:  Agreement breeds truth?, How it works, Conclusion…

Agreement breeds truth?

The idea is that as samples grow on popular articles or passages, and knowledge is disseminated from people in the dispute or claims area, the truth will eventually “bubble its way” to the surface through the voting system. And even if the website itself is attempting to convey a completely false message or idea, the Think LinkConfrontational Computing system provides all users with a way to undo that damage, making sure the potentially harmful message does not go unchallenged when no comments are available.

Since this technology works whether or not the website itself has a comments section, and can be applied to any portion of a website or web page, over time a reader would only have to look at the claims on a highlighted portion of a webpage to see the top five or so choices that have been voted on by the community. As a result, finding the truth of a section that’s in dispute no longer becomes an exercise of everybody having to sift through the potentially 100+ comments which may exist in the Think Link claims area — however, they can read all of them if they want to. The reader still has the option of examining the sample base, and if it’s very obvious (such as 1000 in favor of a particular view, and 35 opposing it), then recognize with reasonable assurance that such the community position is probably the right one. Still, care must be taken.

How it works

Confrontational Computing’s Think Link system operates by its own remote servers which feed data constantly to the Firefox plug-in based on whatever web page is being viewed. Whenever an existing page has disputes, the content will be highlighted, and a user only needs to right-click to access the associated Think Link claims information. And if the web page does not have existing disputes, highlighting a portion and right-clicking will bring up a menu with an item enabling a new Think Link claim to be created. To support or refute a position, text can be input, additional websites referenced, or even specific passages found in additional websites. The ability to guide the support or opposition views is quite extensive.

Presently, the technology is just being launched and is only available via a beta Firefox plug-in. However, Rob Ennals, the project team leader, told TG Daily that the long-term goal is to have plug-ins for every browser, including mobile browsers, to make it a fully pervasive web experience available to all. He also indicated that everybody’s response to this idea has been one of amazement. And if you really take a few moments to think about what it truly means, it’s something phenomenal.

The Confrontational Computing project team includes: Rob Ennals, Tye Rattenbury (PaPR), Tad Hirsch (PaPR), along with collaborators: UC Berkely, Beth Truthkowsky, Maneesh Agrawala, Wesley Willett, Nick Kong, Joe Hellerstein, Christine Robson, Jesse Trutna, Nick Lanham, Armando Fox and Michael Armbrust.


Imagine the ability to have everybody’s knowledge on every subject applied to every page that exists. All it takes is a user surfing through the web pages that are of their interest, and when an item of note is found — be it in agreement or disagreement, that user need only highlight, right-click and convey their knowledge to everybody else on the web.

This is, hands down, the most amazing idea I’ve ever heard of when it comes to using the web. It’s a way to apply the full knowledge of the entire Internet viewing audience to everything that’s published. And the voting system ensures that the community voice is heard in support, in opposition, or in deference to the various postulates.

My hat goes off to the UC Berkeley team involved in this project. I cannot wait to begin using this technology as I believe I encounter at least a dozen articles every day which contain information I know or believe to be false. And I can’t imagine the experience is any different for most everybody else on the web.

The community mind … applied to everything published … and given freely unto the world for the purpose of enhancing everybody’s understanding toward the truth. What could be better?

See the full 2009 Open House brochure (PDF; see pages 4 and 5 for Confrontational Computing).