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Twitter bags deep learning talent behind London startup, Fabula AI

Twitter has just announced it has picked up London-based Fabula AI. The deep learning startup has been developing technology to try to identify online disinformation by looking at patterns in how fake stuff vs genuine news spreads online — making it an obvious fit for the rumor-riled social network.

Social media giants remain under increasing political pressure to get a handle on online disinformation to ensure that manipulative messages don’t, for example, get a free pass to fiddle with democratic processes.

Facebook, Google and Twitter told to do more to fight fake news ahead of European elections

Twitter says the acquisition of Fabula will help it build out its internal machine learning capabilities — writing that the UK startup’s “world-class team of machine learning researchers” will feed an internal research group it’s building out, led by Sandeep Pandey, its head of ML/AI engineering.

This research group will focus on “a few key strategic areas such as natural language processing, reinforcement learning, ML ethics, recommendation systems, and graph deep learning” — now with Fabula co-founder and chief scientist, Michael Bronstein, as a leading light within it.

Bronstein is chair in machine learning & pattern recognition at Imperial College, London — a position he will remain while leading graph deep learning research at Twitter.

Fabula’s chief technologist, Federico Monti — another co-founder, who began the collaboration that underpin’s the patented technology with Bronstein while at the University of Lugano, Switzerland — is also joining Twitter.

“We are really excited to join the ML research team at Twitter, and work together to grow their team and capabilities. Specifically, we are looking forward to applying our graph deep learning techniques to improving the health of the conversation across the service,” said Bronstein in a statement.

“This strategic investment in graph deep learning research, technology and talent will be a key driver as we work to help people feel safe on Twitter and help them see relevant information,” Twitter added. “Specifically, by studying and understanding the Twitter graph, comprised of the millions of Tweets, Retweets and Likes shared on Twitter every day, we will be able to improve the health of the conversation, as well as products including the timeline, recommendations, the explore tab and the onboarding experience.”

Terms of the acquisition have not been disclosed.

We covered Fabula’s technology and business plan back in February when it announced its “new class” of machine learning algorithms for detecting what it colloquially badged ‘fake news’.

Its approach to the problem of online disinformation looks at how it spreads on social networks — and therefore who is spreading it — rather than focusing on the content itself, as some other approaches do.

Fabula has patented algorithms that use the emergent field of “Geometric Deep Learning” to detect online disinformation — where the datasets in question are so large and complex that traditional machine learning techniques struggle to find purchase. Which does really sound like a patent designed with big tech in mind.

Fabula likens how ‘fake news’ spreads on social media vs real news as akin to “a very simplified model of how a disease spreads on the network”.

One advantage of the approach is it looks to be language agnostic (at least barring any cultural differences which might also impact how fake news spread).

Back in February the startup told us it was aiming to build an open, decentralised “truth-risk scoring platform” — akin to a credit referencing agency, just focused on content not cash.

It’s not clear from Twitter’s blog post whether the core technologies it will be acquiring with Fabula will now stay locked up within its internal research department — or be shared more widely, to help other platforms grappling with online disinformation challenges.

The startup had intended to offer an API for platforms and publishers later this year.

But of course building a platform is a major undertaking. And, in the meanwhile, Twitter — with its pressing need to better understand the stuff its network spreads — came calling.

A source close to the matter told us that Fabula’s founders decided that selling to Twitter instead of pushing for momentum behind a vision of a decentralized, open platform because the exit offered them more opportunity to have “real and deep impact, at scale”.

Though it is also still not certain what Twitter will end up doing with the technology it’s acquiring. And it at least remains possible that Twitter could choose to make it made open across platforms.

“That’ll be for the team to figure out with Twitter down the line,” our source added.

A spokesman for Twitter did not respond directly when we asked about its plans for the patented technology but he told us: “There’s more to come on how we will integrate Fabula’s technology where it makes sense to strengthen our systems and operations in the coming months.  It will likely take us some time to be able to integrate their graph deep learning algorithms into our ML platform. We’re bringing Fabula in for the team, tech and mission, which are all aligned with our top priority: Health.”

Social investment platform eToro acquires smart contract startup Firmo

Social investing and trading platform eToro announced that it has acquired Danish smart contract infrastructure provider Firmo for an undisclosed purchase price.

Firmo’s platform enables exchanges to execute smart financial contracts across various assets, including crypto derivatives, and across all major blockchains. Firmo founder and CEO Dr. Omri Ross described the company’s mission as “…enabl[ing] our users to trade any asset globally with instant settlement by tokenizing assets and executing all essential trade processes on the blockchain.” Firmo’s only disclosed investment, according to data from Pitchbook, came in the form of a modest pre-seed round from the Copenhagen Fintech Lab accelerator.

Firmo’s mission aligns well with that of eToro — which is equal parts trading platform, social network and educational resource for beginner investors — with the company having long communicated hopes of making the capital markets more open, transparent and accessible to all users and across all assets. By gobbling up Firmo, eToro will be able to accelerate its development of offerings for tokenized assets.

The acquisition represents the latest step in eToro’s broader growth plan, which has ramped up as of late. Earlier in March, the company launched a crypto-only version of its platform in the US, as well as a multi-signature digital wallet where users can store, send and receive cryptocurrencies.

The Firmo deal and eToro’s other expansion activities fit squarely into the company’s belief in the tokenization of assets and the immense, sector-defining opportunity that it creates. Etoro believes that asset tokenization and the movement of financial services onto the blockchain are all but inevitable and the company has employed the long-tailed strategy of investing heavily in related blockchain and crypto technologies despite the ongoing crypto winter.

“Blockchain and the tokenization of assets will play a major role in the future of finance,” said eToro co-founder and CEO Yoni Assia. “We believe that in time all investible assets will be tokenized and that we will see the greatest transfer of wealth ever onto the blockchain.” Assia expressed a similar sentiment in a recent conversation with TechCrunch, stating “We think [the tokenization of assets] is a bigger opportunity than the internet…”

After the acquisition, Firmo will operate as an internal R&D arm within eToro focused on developing blockchain-oriented trade execution and the infrastructure behind the digital representation of tokenized assets.

“The Firmo team has done ground-breaking work in developing practical applications for blockchain technology which will facilitate friction-less global trading,” said Assia.

“The adoption of smart contracts on the blockchain increases trust and transparency in financial services. We are incredibly proud and excited that [Firmo] will be joining the eToro family. We believe that together we have a very bright future and look forward to pursuing our shared goal to become the first truly global service provider allowing people to trade, invest and save.”

Bitcoin Watchers Are Blaming the Slump on the Moon

If regulatory concerns aren’t enough to explain Bitcoin’s 50 percent slump from its record high reached last month, how about blaming it on the moon?

The Lunar New Year, which marks the first day of the year in the Chinese calendar, is being cited by some as contributing to Bitcoin’s slump as Asian traders cash out their cryptocurrencies to travel and buy gifts for the holiday that starts Feb. 16 this year. The festivity is celebrated not just in China, but in other Asian countries including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea and Thailand.

"The January drop is a recurring theme in cryptocurrencies as people celebrating the Chinese New Year, aka Lunar New Year, exchange their crypto for fiat currency," said Alexander Wallin, chief executive officer of trading social network SprinkleBit in New York. "The timing is about four to six weeks before the lunar year, when most people make their travel arrangements and start buying presents."

Bitcoin had a similar decline at the beginning of 2017, when it slumped from a high of $1,162 to a low of $752 in January, similar to what happened in the first month of the prior year. In 2017, the total cryptocurrency market peaked on Jan. 5 at $22 billion, only to bottom out a week later at about $14 billion, Joe DiPasquale, who manages cryptocurrency fund of funds BitBull Capital, wrote in a report. The rebound back to the previous peak concluded in mid-February of 2017.

While Chinese yuan and Korean won used to account for most Bitcoin trading volume, regulatory crackdowns in those nations have reduced their significance — and trading in U.S. dollars and Japanese yen now account for well over half of the volume. But that’s little comfort to Bitcoin investors who have seen prices tumble this year after the cryptocurrency surged 1,400 percent last year.

So much for Bitcoin shooting to the moon.

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