Facebook Is Already Using Its Artificial Intelligence On You

Mark Zuckerberg explains how it affects your life.

You probably don't realize it, but if you use Facebook, you're working with artificial intelligence every day.

The social network is able to recognize patterns in how you interact with things and deliver content in response. If you often "like" updates from a certain person, Facebook might suggest different (sometimes weird) ways for you to see more from that person.

Mark Zuckerberg put all of this in plain speak during a town hall in Berlin, Germany, Thursday.

"So much of what you do on Facebook -- you open up your app, you open up your News Feed, and there are thousands of things that are going on in your world, and we need to figure out what's interesting," Zuckerberg said. "That's an AI problem."

Zuckerberg was joined by Yann LeCun, Facebook's head of AI research. The session was broadcast live via the Facebook app, with over 100,000 people watching at any given moment.

The two characterized Facebook's current AI capabilities as basic pattern recognition, or "supervised learning." What that means, basically, is that Facebook is good at understanding how you use the News Feed and at automatically making suggestions for you -- surfacing an article it thinks you'll find interesting, for example -- but that's all happening in a closed environment. That AI technology isn't able to learn how to do anything other than surface material on Facebook.

This kind of AI has been around for a while. IBM's Deep Blue computer was able to get good enough at chess to defeat champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. But Deep Blue couldn't then apply any of its "learning" to checkers.

That said, modern technology is evolving rapidly. Pattern recognition, as Zuckerberg and LeCun pointed out Thursday, is complex enough now for driverless cars to exist, or for tech to recognize what certain ailments look like.

"[AI can] make every doctor as good as the best doctor in the world at diagnosing skin cancer," Zuckerberg said.

"Lives are going to be saved by AI," LeCun said.

While Facebook's algorithm might seem a bit inconsequential compared to a cancer-detecting robot, Zuckerberg said his company is in a key position to further AI research in general.

"You have a lot of the smartest people in academic environments, but a lot of the infrastructure is in corporate environments," Zuckerberg said, explaining that he wants to leverage the resources at Facebook to create more advanced AI.

On that note, Zuckerberg and LeCun wrapped up the town hall by announcing a new partnership program that will accelerate AI experimentation at key research institutions. To kick it off, Facebook is donating 25 servers across the European Union.

This brings us to another point. There are plenty of problems around AI, not the least of which is the very valid concern that intelligent robots will replace human jobs.

And some worry that if AI moves beyond supervised learning and pattern recognition -- if robots and software become smart enough to better themselves and learn new skills -- we could reach a technological singularity that wipes out mankind altogether.

So, that's a bummer. For now, though, enjoy the benefits of a smarter Facebook.

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