Dr Andreas Vlachos wins an ERC Grant for a project that combats fake news

AVeriTeC will revolutionise automated fact checking

Dr Andreas Vlachos has been awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant for the project "Automated Verification of Textual Claims" (AVeriTeC).

AVeriTeC will transform automated fact checking in fields including politics, economics and science, by enabling the verification of more complex claims than previously attempted.

Verification of textual claims is the task of assessing the truthfulness of a statement in natural language. It is commonly conducted manually by journalists on claims made by public figures such as politicians, with the aim of reducing misinformation.

However, the proliferation of social media has created the need to apply verification to a larger volume of claims coming from a greater variety of sources, thus calling for automation.

Research in automated verification of textual claims is at an early stage. The methods developed either assess the truthfulness of the claim without considering evidence, or handle very simple claims such as “the UK has 3.2 million EU immigrants” that requires the retrieval of a single factoid from a knowledge base. While useful, claims are often more complex, and taking evidence into account is necessary in ensuring the verdicts are credible.

AVeriTeC will revolutionise automated fact checking by enabling the verification of highly complex claims, which require multiple pieces of evidence, such as “the United Kingdom has ten times Italy’s number of immigrants”.

Dr Vlachos's team will achieve this by developing methods able to generate multiple questions per claim, retrieve answers from both knowledge bases and textual sources, and combine them into verdicts. As these tasks are interdependent, they will develop novel machine learning approaches able to handle them jointly, so that the verdicts are accompanied by suitable justifications in the form of questions and answers.

Answers generated by the fact checking process will be formulated in natural language, to ensure that the process is transparent and explainable to users. The evidence provided for the process of verification can be useful in itself.

Dr Andreas Vlachos is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Computer Science and Technology. His research specialisms include machine learning, natural language and computational journalism.

Dr Vlachos works in the Natural Language Processing group, and was appointed to the University of Cambridge in October 2018. He also completed his PhD at the University of Cambridge.

The European Research Council will award €600 million to Europe’s top researchers through these new Consolidator Grants. A broad range of research has been awarded funding, including projects on climate change, and how online tools change political advocacy and impact democracy.

This year 12% of applications to the Consolidator Grant competition were successful, with 31% of grants being awarded to female applicants. The funded projects will create around 2,000 new jobs for postdoctoral researchers. The UK was the second highest recipient of ERC grants after Germany, with 50 projects awarded funding.

Dr Andreas Vlachos has been awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant for the project AVeriTeC, which will transform automated fact checking in fields including politics, economics and science.