Waterloo tech team named one of ten finalist in fight against fake news

On Jan. 10, local Waterloo team, the Traveling Wilburys, was announced as one of the finalists in the first phase of a competition in effort to combat fake news using artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

Out of the 150 teams across the country who entered the competition, the Traveling Wilburys are one of only ten teams who will be moving forward.

The Traveling Wilburys, comprised of Ronak Pradeep, Pratyush Pal and Sidhant Saraogi, are one of the lucky finalists who will move forward into the second phase of the competition, where they will have a chance to win the $1 million dollar Leaders Prize.

The competition, announced at the 2019 True North conference run by Communitech, chose fake news as its focus due to rising prevalence of misinformation presented as truth and its potentially destructive effects on the democratic society.

“Fake news is a very big issue now, so it’s also a very good time to start working on solutions to such problems,” said Ronak Pradeep, finalist and natural language researcher.

“I don’t think there’s enough work being done yet, and I think the second round of this competition really brings it down a more real-world path.”

In order to progress in the competition, the teams must create an effective and efficient AI-based fact checking solution. In the second phase of the competition, the finalist’s solutions must surpass 75 per cent of the human baseline result and each team must provide evidence in defense of their solutions truth rating.

“There are patterns to fake news for sure, so some kinds of texts can be verified to be true using the internet. I think that’s what this competition tries to tackle,” Pradeep said.

“The past two years have been a very good time for the field of natural language processing, which is pretty much what this falls under because you’re taking text and trying to classify whether the claim made is true or not.”

The first place prize will be provided by the Schulich Foundation and Leaders Fund, its namesake, in partnership with Communitech and the University of Waterloo.

The competition allows talented Canadian in the tech sector to showcase their skills and work towards combatting real-world problems.

An interest in AI technologies, natural language processing and fact verification are some of the reasons that Pradeep chose to participate in the Leaders Prize Competition with his teammates

“Growing up I was always fascinated in AI,” Pradeep said. “And I’ve been a research in natural language processing, I’d say, for two or three years now.”

Going into the competition, the Traveling Wilburys were unsure of how things would play out, but after weeks of hard work, they became more confident that they would be one of the ten finalists.

“As we got towards the end, it did feel that we would probably get through,” Pradeep said. “We seemed to be doing pretty well in the leaderboards.”

Moving into the second phase, the team plans to devote multiple hours a day to the competition.

If they received the Leaders Prize, the Traveling Wilburys hope to use the prize money to collect more data to help fuel future AI solutions to preventing the spread of fake news.

“Personally, I think a lot more data needs to be collected for this task first before we can approach it” Pradeep said. “In general, any of these AI solutions are dependent on data.”

The competition will come to a close on May 8, 2020, when all finalist teams must have their phase two solutions submitted. The winner of the Leaders Prize Competition will then be announced on June 3 at the True North Festival.

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