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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.”

Indias OYO enters Japan in partnership with SoftBank

Fresh from closing a notable investment from Airbnb, India’s OYO has expanded its footprint into Japan. The move comes through a joint venture with investor SoftBank — which led OYO’s $1 billion round last year through its Vision Fund — which will cover hotel-based accommodation and home rentals.

Financial details around the joint venture were not disclosed. An OYO representative declined to go into details when asked.

OYO started in India, where it initially aggregated budget hotels; it has since expanded into China, Malaysia, Nepal, the U.K., the UAE, Indonesia, the Philippines and — now — Japan. China, in particular, has shown promise, with OYO’s room inventory there reportedly double what it is in India.

The evolution has not just been a geographical one. Its business has moved from a laser focus on the long-tail of budget hotels to a broader “hospitality” play. It now includes managed private homes and, in India, wedding venues, holiday packages and co-working — while its hotel supply is a mixture of franchised and leased. It has also advanced its focus from budget-minded consumers to cover business travelers, too.

The Japanese JV will be led by Prasun Choudhary, whom OYO describes as a founding member of its team. Like OYO business elsewhere in the world, the company is appealing to small and medium hotel franchises and owners. On the consumer side, its prime segment is domestic and international travelers who seek “budget to mid-segment hospitality,” to use part of a statement from OYO founder and CEO Ritesh Agarwal, who is pictured in the image at the top of this post.

Agarwal is a Thiel fellow who started the company in 2011 when aged just 18. His original business, called Oravel, was an Airbnb clone that pivoted to become OYO. Today, that company is valued at $5 billion after raising more than $1.5 billion from investors.

SoftBank has previously struck joint ventures to bring other Vision Fund companies to Japan. Those include WeWork, Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing and India’s Paytm, which launched a payment service in the country.

Second-Tier Crypto Coins Are Starting to Catch Up to Bitcoin

Bitcoin alternatives are closing the gap with the market leader after names like stellar and cardano became red hot as 2017 was closing.

The biggest cryptocurrency’s share of market value has fallen to a record 36 percent from 56 percent a month ago, according to CoinMarketCap prices for coins and tokens. Stellar, designed for cross-border payments, has more than doubled in the first trading days of this year, achieving a record market cap of more than $13 billion.

That kind of move raises questions as to whether speculators will drive up second-tier digital coins at the expense of bitcoin, even though they have different purposes. The paper value of all cryptocurrencies combined has more than doubled to almost $700 billion in the past month.

“The altcoins today, in large part, are not trying to be bitcoin competitors,” said Lex Sokolin, global director of fintech strategy at Autonomous Research LLP in London. “They are doing something else entirely — ethereum as a smart-contracts platform, iota as a machine-economy token, ripple for interbank payments, and so on.” How each is used “should become increasingly relevant as the novelty of crypto wears off.”

While naysayers insist the crypto market has many signs of a bubble, speculating has been promising for many who bought second-tier coins. Ethereum, the second-largest by market value, has roughly tripled in the last two months. Cardano is up more than 40-fold in the period. That compares with an approximate doubling for bitcoin, which went more mainstream in December by sporting its first U.S. futures contracts. Bitcoin rose 2 percent Wednesday.

The technical shortcomings of bitcoin signal its benchmark status may be taken away someday by a second-generation rival, according to Mike McGlone, a commodity strategist at Bloomberg Industries who likens the market to internet-based companies a few decades ago.

For a look at using Bloomberg functions to compare with dot-com bubble, click here.

“When the frenzy subsides, 2Gs should continue to gain on bitcoin, which has flaws and where futures can be shorted,” McGlone wrote in a note last week. “Ethereum appears prime to assume benchmark status, though bitcoin forks ripple and litecoin are the primary up-and-coming contenders.”

With a $216 billion market value on Dec. 31, bitcoin was often the first stop — and maybe the last — for investors who then maybe dabbled in smaller, more volatile tokens. A surge in investor interest typically benefits the smallest more, simply because they have smaller market values, said Spencer Bogart, a partner at Blockchain Capital LLC in San Francisco.

“This goes both directions though: often when crypto markets are falling you see a rotation out of the long-tail of crypto assets and into bitcoin, the ‘king of crypto,’ which is rightfully perceived to have the most staying power in the ecosystem,” Bogart said.

Crypto Party

As the crypto party grew bigger, the crashers — blue-suited investors and hedge funds — have purchased mostly bitcoin, and they have different buying criteria than early converts who may have moved on to less-liquid units like dash or monero, according to industry observers. The diluted investor base may weaken the yoke to bitcoin, the biggest by market value, they say.

“The capital base of these markets is evolving rapidly,” said Kyle Samani, managing partner of Multicoin Capital, a digital-asset hedge fund in Texas. “Before the recent bitcoin bull run, the investor base in crypto was mostly engineers, nerds, and libertarians. ”

In the U.S., Samani of Multicoin Capital says he sees a division between what’s on offer at the popular Coinbase exchange, and everything else.

“Most retail investors are only buying assets available on Coinbase,” he said. “We should continue to see a decoupling between what’s on Coinbase versus other altcoins.”

For more on cryptocurrencies, check out the podcast:

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