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How Political Campaigns Weaponize Social Media Bots

Analysis of computational propaganda in the 2016 U.S. presidential election reveals the reach of bots

11 min read
Opening illustration for this feature article.
Illustration: Jude Buffum

In the summer of 2017, a group of young political activists in the United Kingdom figured out how to use the popular dating app Tinder to attract new supporters. They understood how Tinder’s social networking platform worked, how its users tended to use the app, and how its algorithms distributed content, and so they built a bot to automate flirty exchanges with real people. Over time, those flirty conversations would turn to politics—and to the strengths of the U.K.’s Labour Party.

To send its messages, the bot would take over a Tinder profile owned by a Labour-friendly user who’d agreed to the temporary repurposing of his or her account. Eventually, the bot sent somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 messages, targeting 18- to 25-year-olds in constituencies where the Labour candidates were running in tight races. It’s impossible to know precisely how many votes are won through social media campaigns, but in several targeted districts, the Labour Party did prevail by just a few votes. In celebrating their victory, campaigners took to Twitter to thank their team—with a special nod to the Tinder election bot.

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Meta Aims to Build the World’s Fastest AI Supercomputer

The AI Research SuperCluster could help the company develop real-time voice translations

3 min read
A brightly lit, high-ceilinged room with rows of silvery-black cabinets and yellow pipes near the ceiling.

Meta's new AI supercomputer.

Meta

Meta, parent company of Facebook, says it has built a research supercomputer that is among the fastest on the planet. By the middle of this year, when an expansion of the system is complete, it will be the fastest, Meta researchers Kevin Lee and Shubho Sengupta write in a blog post today. The AI Research SuperCluster (RSC) will one day work with neural networks with trillions of parameters, they write. The number of parameters in neural network models have been rapidly growing. The natural language processor GPT-3, for example, has 175 billion parameters, and such sophisticated AIs are only expected to grow.

RSC is meant to address a critical limit to this growth, the time it takes to train a neural network. Generally, training involves testing a neural network against a large data set, measuring how far it is from doing its job accurately, using that error signal to tweak the network’s parameters, and repeating the cycle until the neural network reaches the needed level of accuracy. It can take weeks of computing for large networks, limiting how many new networks can be trialed in a given year. Several well-funded startups, such as Cerebras and SambaNova, were launched in part to address training times.

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Rooftop Drones for Autonomous Pigeon Harassment

Have invasive flying rats met their match?

3 min read
A pigeon on a poop covered wooden plank.
iStock photo

Feral pigeons are responsible for over a billion dollars of economic losses here in the United States every year. They’re especially annoying because the species isn’t native to this country—they were brought over from Europe (where they’re known as rock doves and are still quite annoying) because you can eat them, but enough of the birds escaped and liked it here that there are now stable populations all over the country, being gross.

In addition to carrying diseases (some of which can occasionally infect humans), pigeons are prolific and inconvenient urban poopers, deploying their acidic droppings in places that are exceptionally difficult to clean. Rooftops, as well as ledges and overhangs on building facades, are full of cozy nooks and crannies, and despite some attempts to brute-force the problem by putting metal or plastic spikes on every horizontal surface, there are usually more surfaces (and pigeons) than can be reasonably bespiked.

Researchers at EPFL in Switzerland believe that besting an aerial adversary requires an aerial approach, and so they’ve deployed an autonomous system that can identify roof-invading pigeons and then send a drone over to chase them away.

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Learn How to Use a High-Performance Digitizer

Join Teledyne for a three-part webinar series on high-performance data acquisition basics

1 min read

Webinar: High-Performance Digitizer Basics

Part 3: How to Use a High-Performance Digitizer

Date: Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Time: 10 AM PST | 1 PM EST

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