AI Pioneer, Legal Robot, Bags $100k For Journalism Research Tool

One of the earlier legal AI pioneers, Legal Robot – which has mostly had a focus on corporates and is based in California – has been awarded $100,000 to ‘create a free research tool that journalists and the public can use to find and analyse government contracts, so that they may better understand how public entities use the people’s resources’

The funding is part of the Ethics and Governance in AI Initiative, a joint project of the MIT Media Lab and the Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. It awarded the funding through the AI and the News Open Challenge. The total pot is $750,000 and seven projects were funded, out of 500 applications.

Tim Hwang, who leads the initiative, said: ‘The winners showcase both the opportunities and challenges posed by artificial intelligence. On one hand, the technology offers a tremendous opportunity to improve the way we work —  including helping journalists find key information buried in mountains of public records. Yet we are also seeing a range of negative consequences as AI becomes intertwined with the spread of misinformation and disinformation online.’

Full list of funding winners: 

Project: Automating Public Accountability with AI

Organization: Legal Robot (which was the only legal tech company to win).

Award: $100,000

Legal Robot will create a free research tool that journalists and the public can use to find and analyze government contracts, so that they may better understand how public entities use the people’s resources.  Legal Robot will use public records laws to request a large set of city, county and state contracts, then automate the extraction and analysis of the data with its machine learning tools. The project will then post both a database and create data visualizations for the public to scrutinize. Visualizations will be created in partnership with TLM Works, a web development training program at the San Quentin prison.  The project’s goal is to promote government transparency by providing journalists with the tools and data they need to discover links between government and their contractors, and to scrutinize any fraud, waste or abuse.

Project: Sidekick

Organization: MuckRock Foundation

Award: $150,000

Newsrooms and researchers are winning access to larger and larger document sets, but getting them is just the start. Understanding what is in those PDFs can be just as challenging, requiring hours of sifting and data entry. Sidekick will offer accessible and intuitive crowdsourcing and machine learning tools to help newsrooms and other groups automate turning documents into data, helping quickly analyze tens of thousands of pages while highlighting sections that might go overlooked.

Project: Reporting from the Epicenter of AI

Organization: Seattle Times

Award: $125,000

The Seattle Times will create a one-year reporting series on artificial intelligence and its implications on society. This work will involve producing major enterprise stories that examine the changing nature of work, assumptions about the jobs Americans will have in the future, and the political and public policy issues that are sparked as changes from AI take hold. From driverless vehicles to advanced robotic systems, technological changes promise to disrupt the nature and structure of work just as dramatically over the next decade as the Internet did over the past quarter century. As it has since the Industrial Revolution, the ongoing transformation of working life will ripple out through society in ways that affect income inequality, culture, notions of community and even social stability. The reporting will engage workers whose lives will be affected by AI technologies and amplify their voices, experiences and perspectives.

Project: Community Media Training to Report on AI Systems

Organization: Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY

Award: $100,000

This project seeks to train niche media organizations on how to cover artificial intelligence, with an emphasis on how the technology will directly impact the people they serve. The Newmark Journalism school will offer workshops to train journalists on topics from how AI systems can shape health, social and financial policy, to analyzing who benefits and who is affected by how algorithms are coded.  The program will include a help desk that can guide journalists on technical issues and questions as they report their stories. The trainings will be available to community journalists in New York City and niche journalists from other parts of the U.S. can apply to attend workshops. The Newmark school will also produce a primer on AI, which will be  published in multiple languages.

Project: Tattle: Promoting Public Awareness and Combating Misinformation on WhatsApp

Organization: Tattle Civic Technologies

Award: $100,000
In India, as in other developing countries, WhatsApp is one of the most widely-used social media platforms. Information including misinformation spreads quickly on the platform. The effects can be far ranging — from changes in people’s health choices to greater social tension in communities and in extreme cases violence against individuals. Tattle aims to support and scale existing fact-checking efforts by creating channels for sourcing content from WhatsApp users; using machine learning to categorize and classify multilingual, multimedia content circulated on chat apps; and distributing fact checked information so that is accessible to mobile-first audience. In the process Tattle aims to enable more transparent research on misinformation in closed networks.

Robustly Detecting DeepFakes

Organization: Rochester Institute of Technology

Award: $100,000

Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology will design and evaluate some of the first approaches for robustly and automatically detecting deepfake videos. These detection techniques will combine vision, audio, and language information, including the synthesis of all three for a comprehensive detection that will be much harder to fool. Videos will be labeled with an “integrity score,” signaling to professionals and consumers where media may have been manipulated. A browser extension will color-code the videos for users depending on their score.

Project: Ethics of Algorithms in Latin America

Organization: Chequeado

Award: $75,000

Chequeado will partner with journalists around Latin America to produce an in-depth investigative series on the ethical issues surrounding the implementation of artificial intelligence in the region. Additionally, Chequeado will train local journalists how to cover these emerging technologies and produce a guide with recommendations for journalists covering AI and other relevant issues. This work will be shared within the major journalist networks in Latin America.