What Does Facebook Want With Artificial Intelligence?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What Does Facebook Want With Artificial Intelligence?

 Artificial Intelligence
Facebook has named prominent New York University Professor Yann LeCun the director of a newly opened laboratory devoted to research in artificial intelligence and deep learning.

Recently, Facebook announced that one of the most prominent artificial-intelligence researchers in the world, Yann LeCun, will come onboard the company to lead a massive new artificial intelligence project spanning offices in London, California, and New York. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and chief technical officer Michael Schroepfer announced LeCun’s hiring at the Neural Information Processing Systems Conference in Lake Tahoe, an annual gathering of the AI community.

According to Gary Marcus, the move points to a new layer in Facebook’s ambitions, as well as a shift in the research and development of artificial intelligence.

In September, Facebook formed their AI Group to do world-class artificial intelligence research using all the knowledge that people have shared on the social network. The goal of the company is to use new methods in AI to help make sense of all the content that people share so they can generate new insights about the world and answer people's questions.

LeCun himself describes his aim as having "the long-term goal of bringing about major advances in artificial intelligence."

Yann LeCunLeCun, the current director of New York University's Center for Data Science, first taught computers how to read handwritten digits using data provided by the United States Postal Service. Many A.T.M.s now use LeCun’s techniques to automatically read checks.

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The technology was powered by what he termed convolutional neural networks. Its descendants continue to live on at Google, I.B.M., Microsoft, N.E.C., and Baidu. LeCun is also a pioneer in what’s known as deep learning, a kind of sophisticated, machine-learning technique that excels at interpreting the meanings and context of symbols and images.

If Facebook can use deep learning algorithms to recognize faces in its huge library of users' photos, it can then reliably predict your behavior on its social network.  This means it can serve you ads you’re more likely to click on.

“I could even imagine Facebook identifying the brand of a product in the background of an image and then using that information to target advertisements related to that brand to the user who uploaded the image,” George Dahl, a PhD student who works with Geoff Hinton in the deep learning group at the University of Toronto, told Wired.

As LeCun begins work on the new AI lab at Facebook, Hinton is already well established at Google, working on deep learning improvements to search and other applications. Artificial intelligence is on the verge of a major renaissance, poised to overhaul the way data is analyzed across so many of the online services we use every day, according to Wired's Cade Metz.

Where in the past, most AI research was done in the ivory towers of academia, Facebook and Google now are offering top AI researchers resources that academic institutions can no longer match. What this means for the long-term scientific health of our nation remains to be seen.


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