Five innovation competition finalist teams developing verification tools

Winners will be announced Feb. 8

Five interdisciplinary RJI Student Innovation Competition teams tasked with developing tools to fight against deep fakes and fabricated content are putting final touches on their tools to help verify audio, photo or video content. They will pitch their ideas to industry judges Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020.

Each year the annual innovation competition, which is hosted by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri, brings together students from journalism, engineering and other areas of study to create tools, programs or prototypes that could help solve a journalism challenge. The competition, which is traditionally only open to MU students in Columbia was expanded to include any U.S. college student for the 2019-20 school year.

This year’s contest drew interest from students from universities from across the country including Michigan State University, Stanford University, the University of Kansas, the University of Hawaii, the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

“As part of our Ph.D. program, we are working in the audio domain,” says finalist Zeenat Tariq, a graduate student from UMKC studying computer science. “When we came across this competition, it seemed very appealing to us where we can actually apply our research knowledge into practice. We also have the chance to contribute to the project, which can help save people financials that are under attack by scammers.”

“My goal for this competition, personally, is to inform people of the inherent increase of fake news and deep fake content,” says senior Frank Burnside, a film and media studies student at UMKC. “I’d like us all to be collectively more aware of this harmful content and increase our own deductive skills as humans while consuming media.”

Meet this year’s finalists

  • Team DeepFakeTeam@1 consists of graduate student Siva Kumar Buddi, computer engineering and graduate student Charan Tej Thota, computer science, both of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
  • Team Defakify is made up of senior Reese Bentzinger, communications with journalism emphasis; Gharib Gharibi, graduate student Vijay Walunj, computer science and graduate student Anurag Thantharate, computer networking and communication systems, all of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
  • Team Deep Scholars is made up of graduate student Zeenat Tariq, computer science; graduate student Sayed Khushal Shah; graduate student Vijaya Veruva and senior Frank Burnside, film and media studies, of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
  • Team is made up of graduate student Caleb Heinzman, computer science; senior Ashlyn O’Hara, data journalism; graduate student Kolton Speer, computer science and graduate student Imad Toubal, computer science. All students are from the University of Missouri in Columbia.
  • Team FakeLab is made up of graduate student Raju Nekadi, computer science; graduate student Dhairya Chandra, computer science; Lena Otiankouya, journalism and graduate student Raj Marri, computer science, all of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  

“I selected the challenge of photo, video and audio verification because I feel it is one the most vital challenges that journalism and our world is currently facing,” says Kat Duncan, interim director of innovation at RJI. “The ability to spread misinformation is becoming easier as the technology for it develops and becomes more accessible. Our social networks are not taking the initiative to remove disinformation, so it spreads quickly and even when proven false — the fact check does not often reach the same audiences the misinformation did. We need solutions to this problem and I feel that our students have the intelligence, skills and perspective to create new tools that will help us tackle this issue.”

Final judging

Each team will receive 15 minutes of time to pitch their ideas and 10 minutes to answer questions from a panel of industry judges and the public on competition day Feb. 8, 2020. Winners will be announced the same day.

This year’s judges are Lea Suzuki, photojournalist at the San Francisco Chronicle; Nicholas Diakopoulos, director of the computational journalism lab at Northwestern University; Elite Truong, deputy editor of strategic initiatives at The Washington Post and Jason Rosenbaum, political correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

The top three placing teams will win cash prizes. First place will receive $10,000, second place will be awarded $2,500 and third place will receive $1,000.

The public is invited to attend the event, which begins at 9 a.m. in the Fred W. Smith Forum at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute.

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