On Friday May 25, 2018 at the Viva Technology trade show, while many visitors discovered the innovations developed by the students and Alumni from the IONIS Education Group at Stand B09, Jonas Bouaziz, Arnaud Henric and Jérémie Zimmer (EPITA class of 2020) had their minds elsewhere. In fact, these three 3rd year students were also competing in the 2018 Imagine Cup final. They succeeded in taking third place, receiving their award from Peggy Johnson, Executive Vice President of Business Development in the American firm. What was behind this award-winning performance? Neutral News, an application powered by artificial intelligence (AI) to put news into context through data aggregation (location on a map, description of entities, timeline...) and offering alternate coverage for the same core information. A project that was specially developed for the Imagine Cup and which should not stop there, explained Arnaud.
What made you participate in the Imagine Cup?
Arnaud Henric: It all began at EPITA, during a week-long event on AI organized by the school. Microsoft professionals spoke about the competition during a conference, which immediately appealed to us. It was perfectly in line with our studies because we have to develop an open source project. The timing could not have been better. In fact, we were very lucky. We didn't even expect to be part of the 10 finalists! To actually be a finalist and finish on the podium at Viva Technology was a truly unforgettable experience. It was an honor to be awarded this prize, particularly by Peggy Johnson, who is highly renowned in the IT sector. We were also happy to each bring home an Xbox One X!
How did the three of you decide to work together?
Jonas, Jérémie and I are all very interested in AI and have rather similar working methods. And, most of all, we had wanted to work on a major project outside of our classwork to obtain another perspective.
The team during the awards ceremony, with Peggy Johnson and Pierre-Louis Xech, Deputy Director of the Microsoft Research-Inria Joint Center and Artificial Intelligence & Academic Program Manager at Microsoft.
How did you come up with the idea for your Neutral News project?
We realized that the current flow of information is much more difficult to structure, mainly due to the wide variety of information sources and the more frequent use of social networks for reading and watching the news. Unfortunately, the use of social networks is not without consequences as users read articles written to stir emotions rather than reflection, which are rather short and viral in nature. The readers find themselves in a sort of "bubble" in which the only articles that they read come from sources that they have "liked" and that often share their opinion. This motivated us to create a tool that can put news into context by having access to all different points of view from around the world. The idea was to use AI to provide a more extensive view of the news and encourage readers to enter into a discussion.
How does it work?
The application gathers 7,000 sources from well-known media in 190 different countries. Using the app, we create statistics, classifications, and analyses of natural language, and we look at the different elements from various websites to better understand the article (language, date of publication, URL analysis...). Finally, we create a database in the form of a chart to process the connections between the articles in the same way that Facebook processes interactions between users. The application thus provides the keys needed to understand information and put it into context thanks to other articles covering the same topic. It allows for comparing dates, facts, and names of persons mentioned, for example.
What was the biggest challenge?
From a technical point of view, having to adapt to the Azure platform and managing many different data tools that we were not familiar with, in only two months in order to optimally process a large amount of data that would give us reliable results as quickly as possible. The challenge proved to be even greater than we had anticipated as we had never had the opportunity to work on this type of project before.
Where is Neutral News today?
The application is functional and provides results, which we were able to demonstrate in front of the jury. Of course, the database must still be fed with more data for greater efficiency. The further along we get in the project, the more precise and interesting results we will have. In addition, we count on creating the project in two forms for the general public and professionals. The first, a cross-platform mobile application for iOS and Android. And the second, an API (Application Programming Interface) so that the user can embed the plugin in his/her own machine or Internet site. Obviously, Neutral News also targets journalists, either via the app or the API to help them with their research. By using our app, they would save a considerable amount of time and receive information that is much more structured, reliable and in context! This is the added value we bring. In any case, we will continue working on the project. We are extremely motivated and the amount of positive feedback we have received has truly encouraged us to continue. We will keep you updated!