Right now, Google et al. will find anything anyone has written, without regard to the accuracy or quality of the source. If anything, Google is creating intellectual bubbles for people by learning which links they are likely to click on, reinforcing their existing biases and misinformation.
Look at the success of Watson at solving tricky natural-language wordplay. Such systems will be used for medical and legal knowledge bases, and I've already started seeing advertising for that.
So imagine an advanced computing resource that sucks in all the information known to humanity (like Google) but then digests it to apply scientific reasoning to statements of fact. Suppose that curators work full time to initially set up evaluations of which sources are high or low quality in general and then in specific fields, and answer questions Multivac (named after Asimov’s fictional super-computer) comes up with as it digests things like what Cyc would do.
Eventually Multivac would start pronouncing which journals were highest quality and which rags were worst. The curators would be employed in ever higher level discussions trying to make sense of humanity.
Multivac is put on the Internet for all. It is funded by industrial use, for projects involving product design and scientific research and commercial analysis of legal and medical reports. But for personal use anyone can ask questions for free and get simple factual assessments.
If you ask something like “what is the best alloy to use in this application” you will be forwarded to the commercial division where experts will set up the precise parameters and you can purchase a detailed report.
If you ask “what medicine should I buy” it will say sorry need specific question. Ask “will medicine X help my cold” it will calmly say “No, it has no effect other than placebo and you just ruined that by finding out.” If you ask which medicine is best it will refuse to answer; evaluations are commercial and need experts to set up and produce reports not simple answers. If you ask it which medicine is strongest it will identify those that have the highest dosage of the active ingredient.
I also imagine it being able to annotate a web page, perhaps color coding statements as to accuracy with links to more details and corrected information.
My question is: how will people react to this? There are different societies in the world and different cultures and segments within that. I think about how people already know that certain expensive homeopathic products are just plain water, but rationalize them in crazy and innane ways. So just knowing is often not an issue.
But consider the different levels of what can be asked: what’s in it, what mechanism does the seller claim, or just plain does it work? As people learn to trust the results, will they go for the high-level answer and skip over the intermediate layers where the questioner’s bias would conflict?
Just like people stop being able to do arithmetic once calculators appeared, will a device people can employ to do critical thinking for them result in people less capable?
How will this affect various societies and different groups of people? What will happen to those who “resist”?