Teen designs program to spot fake news

Raffles Institution student Liu Haohui explaining her project to detect fake news to Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How at the Young Defence Scientists Programme exhibition yesterday.
Raffles Institution student Liu Haohui explaining her project to detect fake news to Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How at the Young Defence Scientists Programme exhibition yesterday.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Student's project is one of six representing S'pore at US science competition next month

To tackle the problem of fake news, student Liu Haohui hopes the algorithm she has developed can help verify the reliability of news stories.

Using machine learning, the algorithm can correctly predict whether an article is real or fake with a success rate of more than 90 per cent - comparable to other detectors used in the United States.

She tested it against local fake news articles, such as one that attributed fabricated comments to Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam to solicit bitcoin investments last year, as well as others from traditional news outlets.

"I hope this algorithm could be developed into a Web browser extension or smartphone app so that it provides an additional means for people to check the likelihood of an article being fake before sharing it," said the 17-year-old student from Raffles Institution.

Her project is one of six representing Singapore at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Arizona, in the United States, next month.

The fair is the world's largest international pre-college science competition, and is regarded as the Olympics of science competitions.

Haohui's algorithm was among the projects showcased yesterday at the Young Defence Scientists Programme (YDSP) Congress, co-organised by the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) and DSO National Laboratories.


The one-day exhibition at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre was the culmination of the past year's YDSP activities, which included camps and lectures.

More than 350 students from 19 junior colleges, and integrated programme and secondary schools took part in the activities.

At the event, Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How said in a speech that the YDSP, which began in 1992, has provided a platform for youth to discover the importance of technology and its role in the defence of Singapore.

He added that in an uncertain security landscape with new emerging threats, the Republic faces the constant challenge of preparing and equipping the Singapore Armed Forces to meet future operational needs.

Autonomous systems to keep soldiers safe, looking for opportunities in outer space, and making the cyber domain more secure are some areas that can be explored further, he suggested.

He said the defence technology community has been instrumental in delivering innovative solutions that meet Singapore's needs.

"Defence is not something we can rely on others for.

"Others do not have the incentive nor the inclination, when push comes to shove, to make sure we exist or prosper," he said.

The defence technology community comprises around 5,000 scientists and engineers from the Ministry of Defence, DSTA and DSO.

Haohui's mentor, Mr Ryan Tarn, a senior engineer at DSTA's National Security Programme Centre, said: "Haohui's project has many real-life benefits and is just one of the many possibilities of how data analytics can be used in the context of national security."

Another project that will be representing Singapore at the Arizona fair is a waxed paper parachute prototype that can be used to deliver supplies to disaster-stricken areas.

Compared with conventional parachutes, this original design is cheaper to produce, lighter and more biodegradable, said student Natalie Elizabeth Yam, 17, from Anglo-Chinese School (Independent).

The use of origami-folding techniques ensures that the parachute can be deployed automatically when released in the air.

"I would make origami for my friends when I was eight years old. This background helped me understand the project better," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2019, with the headline 'Teen designs program to spot fake news'. Print Edition | Subscribe