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Jim: For the last year or so, “fake news” has been, well, in the news. Whether you use that term to describe intentionally false stories that are intended to go viral on social media, or as a general collect-all term for the mainstream media, there’s a magnifying glass on the accuracy of the news like never before.

But there’s another type of misinformation that could be just as damaging, if not more so, to society–at least according to researchers at the University of Chicago.

Fake reviews.

Katherine: UChicago researchers have published a white paper on how artificial intelligence can be used to develop sophisticated online reviews on sites like Yelp that are virtually indistinguishable from an actual review. The researchers used a deep learning technique called “recurrent neural networks,” which generates real-sounding reviews by analyzing thousands of actual online reviews.

The reviews produced by the UChicago researchers proved difficult to detect by software or the human eye, and were even determined to go beyond just believable and were actually “useful,” according to the researchers. Here’s an example of an AI-generated review, according to Business Insider:

“I love this place. I went with my brother and we had the vegetarian pasta and it was delicious. The beer was good and the service was amazing. I would definitely recommend this place to anyone looking for a great place to go for a great breakfast and a small spot with a great deal.”

Jim: Researchers said that they aren’t aware of any actual instances of AI being used to make fake reviews, but they said it’s not hard to do (you just need some simple computer hardware and a database of actual reviews).

The issue is that users of sites like Yelp and Amazon rely on truthful reviews. And while posting fake reviews online is nothing new, using AI could help post waves of positive or negative fake reviews at a scale like we’ve never seen.

“In general, the threat is bigger [than fake news],” Ben Y. Zhao, a professor of computer science at the University of Chicago, told Business Insider.

“It is going to progress to greater attacks, where entire articles written on a blog may be completely autonomously generated along some theme by a robot, and then you really have to think about where does information come from, how can you verify … that I think is going to be a much bigger challenge for all of us in the years ahead.”

Jim: Postmates, an on-demand delivery startup, has fired all of its city managers, including in Chicago. The total round of layoffs affected 15 people, and was a result of the company wanting to centralize some of its operations in San Francisco, according to TechCrunch.

Katherine: Chicago private equity firm GTCR has agreed to acquire a majority stake in, an adtech startup based in Fort Worth, TX that has raised $22M in funding. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Jim: More big names have been added to next month’s Chicago Venture Summit. Outcome Health President and Co-Founder Shradha Agarwal and Uptake Co-Founder and CEO Brad Keywell have both been added to the lineup. The event, which takes places Sept. 13-14, will also feature talks by Andreessen Horowitz co-founder Ben Horowitz, and former McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson.

Next Tuesday, be sure to hit up 1 Million Cups Chicago, a free, nationwide program to educate, engage and accelerate early-stage startups. The event takes place at 1871.

Read more about this event and plan your entire tech networking calendar for September with our brand new edition of Inno Approved.


Jim: Chicago logistics startup FourKites announced that it has hired Sean Fallon as its new president of finance and operations. Fallon previously served as COO of OpinionLab, and was COO and CFO of BigMachines, which sold to Oracle.

Katherine: Madan Nagaldinne, a former Facebook and Amazon executive, has left his role as chief people officer at Outcome Health and has taken a position at NY-based real estate tech firm Compass. An Outcome spokesman told us Nagaldinne will still have an advisor role with Outcome.

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Jim: Prince’s sister just said her brother’s favorite color was orange, and now I’m questioning everything I ever knew about anything.

Katherine: Yeah…this is a serious plot twist. Why wasn’t it purple?!

Jim: Chance the Rapper will be flipping chicken at Nando’s Peri-Peri on Michigan Avenue next Tuesday, and plans to chat with customers and talk about the importance of supporting Chicago’s public schools.

We sure he’s not running for mayor?

Katherine: Maybe he should run for mayor. I’m sure there’s some loyal fans that would take his campaign seriously. Besides, maybe a Chance mayorship would include free concerts once a month. But I’m pumped for his Nando’s appearance. I love chicken and uplifting rap.

From Katherine’s story on Cargo:

“It’s giving brands a new way to reach consumers in cars. It’s been a space that was really hard to get into and now we’re formalizing it and carving it out.”

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