Monday, 21 January 2019 10:36

US team working on real-time fact-checking app

US team working on real-time fact-checking app Pixabay

A team of researchers at Duke University in North Carolina are working to develop an app that will be able to do real-time fact-checks on phones, TV screens or tablets by the time of the next US Presidential election in 2020.

The app will match spoken claims against previous fact-check articles that have been published, according to Bill Adair, a professor of the practice of journalism and public policy and director of the Sanford School's DeWitt Wallace Centre for Media and Democracy, who co-leads the Bass Connections project that is developing the app.

“Right now there’s a lot of good political fact-checking, but people have to go find it. They have to hear the claim, then look up the claim. What we’re trying to do is automate it so that the moment the claim is made by a politician, the fact check automatically pops up on their phone, TV screen or tablet," he added.

The team is aiming to develop a proof-of-concept version by the northern spring this year and refine it so that it can be put to use by the time of the presidential campaign in 2020.

Both Adair and his co-project leader Jun Yang, a professor of computer science, admitted that their ambitions were more easily said than achieved.

One challenge is matching any new claim made to existing published material. For example the sentences, “The animal didn’t cross the street because it was too wide” and “the animal didn’t cross the street because it was too tired”, are difficult for computers to parse and figure out whether the word "it" refers to the animal or the street.

Said Yang: "The accuracy bar is very high. Pop-up fact-checking can give a true-or-false verdict, but if our matching algorithm makes any mistakes people are not going to be very happy about it.”

It is unclear, however, if any commercial TV channels would be willing to use such an app, given that it can cause them more than a small degree of embarrassment.

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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