Researchers working on social media 'lie detector'

Updated 29 April 2014
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Researchers working on social media 'lie detector'

LONDON: University researchers are working on a system that could quash rumors spreading on social media by identifying whether information is accurate.
Five European universities, led by Sheffield in northern England, are cooperating on a system that could automatically identify whether a rumor originates from a reliable source and can be verified.
The researchers said Tuesday they hope the system will allow governments, emergency services, media and the private sector to respond more effectively to claims emerging and spreading on social media before they get out of hand.
The three-year, European Union-funded project, called PHEME, is an attempt to filter out the nuggets of factual information from the avalanche of ill-informed comment on Twitter and Facebook.
"Social networks are rife with lies and deception," the project leaders said in a statement. Such messages can have far-reaching consequences, but there is so much of it that it is impossible to analyse it in real time.
Claims during the 2011 riots in London that the London Eye observation wheel was on fire or that all the animals were let out of London Zoo were given as examples of false rumors that spread rapidly via the Internet.
The research is being led by Dr Kalina Bontcheva of Sheffield University's Faculty of Engineering.
"The problem is that it all happens so fast and we can't quickly sort truth from lies," she said.
"This makes it difficult to respond to rumors, for example, for the emergency services to quash a lie in order to keep a situation calm. Our system aims to help with that, by tracking and verifying information in real time."
The project is trying to identify four types of information -- speculation, controversy, misinformation, and disinformation -- and model their spread on social networks.
It will try to use three factors to establish veracity: the information itself (lexical, syntactic and semantic); cross-referencing with trustworthy data sources; and the information's diffusion.
The results can be displayed to the user on screen.
"We can already handle many of the challenges involved, such as the sheer volume of information in social networks, the speed at which it appears and the variety of forms, from tweets, to videos, pictures and blog posts," said Bontcheva.
"But it's currently not possible to automatically analyse, in real time, whether a piece of information is true or false and this is what we've now set out to achieve."
The Times newspaper said the EU would meet most of the predicted 4.3 million euros costs of the project and a final version is hoped for within 18 months.
The project is a collaboration between five universities -- Sheffield, King's College London, Warwick in England, Saarland in Germany and MODUL University Vienna -- and four companies - ATOS in Spain, iHub in Kenya, Ontotext in Bulgaria and swissinfo.ch.
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Chinese scientist who gene-edited babies fired by university

Updated 21 January 2019
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Chinese scientist who gene-edited babies fired by university

  • Hundreds of Chinese and international scientists condemned He Jiankui
  • Chinese authorities also denounced He and issued a temporary halt to research activities involving the editing of human genes

SHENZHEN, China: A Chinese scientist responsible for what he said were the world’s first “gene-edited” babies evaded oversight and broke guidelines in a quest for fame and fortune, state media said on Monday, as the university where he worked announced his dismissal.
He Jiankui said in November that he used a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls born that month, sparking an international outcry about the ethics and safety of such research.
Hundreds of Chinese and international scientists condemned He and said any application of gene editing on human embryos for reproductive purposes was unethical.
Chinese authorities also denounced He and issued a temporary halt to research activities involving the editing of human genes.
He had “deliberately evaded oversight” with the intent of creating a gene-edited baby “for the purpose of reproduction,” according to the initial findings of an investigating team set up by the Health Commission of China in southern Guangdong province, Xinhua news agency reported.
He had raised funds himself and privately organized a team of people to carry out the procedure in order to “seek personal fame and profit,” Xinhua said, adding that he had forged ethical review papers in order to enlist volunteers for the procedure.
The safety and efficacy of the technologies He used are unreliable and creating gene-edited babies for reproduction is banned by national decree, the report said.
The Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in the city of Shenzhen, said in a statement on its website that He had been fired.
“Effective immediately, SUSTech will rescind the work contract with Dr. Jiankui He and terminate any of his teaching and research activities at SUSTech,” the statement said.
The university added the decision came after a preliminary investigation by the Guangdong Province Investigation Task Force.
Neither He nor a representative could be reached for comment on Monday.
He defended his actions at a conference in Hong Kong in November, saying that he was “proud” of what he had done and that gene editing would help protect the girls from being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
He’s announcement sparked a debate among Chinese legal scholars over which laws He had technically broken by carrying out the procedure, as well as whether he could be held criminally responsible or not.
Many scholars pointed to a 2003 guideline that bans altered human embryos from being implanted for the purpose of reproduction, and says altered embryos cannot be developed for more than 14 days.
The case files of those involved who are suspected of committing crimes had been sent to the ministry of public security, an unnamed spokesperson for the investigation team was quoted by Xinhua as saying.