“Obama was listless up there”. “Ryan’s grasp of the facts is tenuous,” & “Biden was clearly unhinged.” — some quotes from talking-head political pundits in reference to the recent televised Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates. A lot of the ‘analysis’ coming out of the 24 hour news cycle is often little more than self-reinforcing hyperbole and subjective name-calling. But what if there was a way to cut through the candidates’ and news agencies partisan smoke screens and see what was really going on inside the minds of our would-be leaders? Was Obama really daydreaming during the 1st debate? Does Romney actually believe anything that comes out of his own mouth?
This works because as much as we might try to mask our inner intentions and emotions, the language centers in our brain broadcast our inner secrets in subtle ways. Like a poker player’s ‘tell’, the character and frequency of the words we use reveal a lot about our inner psychological states. Liars tend to avoid talking about themselves in the first person. Depressed and suicidal people speak a lot more about their bodies and health than happy people.
By assembling a team of the world’s fanciest psychologists, linguists, programmers, and bartenders, we have put together behavioral models that allow our system to detect lies, narcissism, depression, and senility ten times better than any jackass in a suit can on CNN. Tune in to ReConstitution2012.com during the last two debates (Tuesday October 16th 9:00 PM EST & Monday October 22nd 9:00 PM EST) to see our system in action live, or anytime afterwards for a recap.
In addition to the aesthetic and analytical goals of the project, we also saw it as a critique of traditional media coverage. Our “second screen” serves as a counterpoint to all of the Twitter feeds and ambiguous visualizations crammed into the TV frame during the debates. We figure, if there must be a spectacle, why not have fun with it and even offer some insight based on actual research along with it. It was also important to us that this piece did not aggregate and try to leverage social media content — we wanted to offer a view of the debates that people could explore and interpret individually, rather than just repeating and reinforcing catchphrases and social media trends.
Reconstitution 2012 is a web platform that uploads, processes, and distributes closed captioning data in real time. The platform consists of three pieces of software: a closed caption distributor app, the backend server, and the frontend client.
The closed caption (CC) distributor is a C++ application, built on OpenFrameworks, that runs locally in the Sosolimited studio. This application receives CC text that has been extracted from an analog cable signal by dedicated hardware, and sends it to the backend server. It also lets us, with the press of a button, tell the system who is speaking at any given moment in the debates.
This project was a collaboration with our longtime supporters at The Creators Project, a partnership between Vice and Intel. We also worked closely on the code with Tim Branyen and the badass team at Bocoup. The language analysis was tuned with help from Cindy Chung and James Pennebaker from the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.