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Technology

Facebook hires French artificial intelligence guru

© Facebook screen-shot

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-16

Social networking giant Facebook has appointed a French artificial intelligence (AI) expert to lead what will become the largest research facility of its kind in the world.

Professor Yann LeCun, who is currently lecturing at NYU's Center for Data Science, has been studying AI for decades.

While for now Facebook feeds may seem like a random jumble, LeCun argues these "can be improved by intelligent systems."

"This could include things like ranking (the items in) news feeds, or determining the ads that are shown to users, to be more relevant," he told AFP.

"Then there are things that are less directly connected, like analyzing content, understanding natural language and being able to model users... to allow them to learn new things, entertain them and help them achieve their goals."

‘Limited by the number of smart people in the world’

Facebook is the world's biggest social network; but like all web services, it faces the challenge of maintaining growth, keeping users engaged and delivering enough advertising to generate revenue without annoying its users.

LeCun said the new artificial intelligence lab would be the largest research facility of its kind in the world, though he declined to provide numbers.

"We're limited only by how many smart people there are in the world that we can hire," the Paris-born mathematician and computer scientist said.

The lab will be based in three locations – New York, London and at Facebook's California headquarters.

But it will also be part of the broader artificial intelligence research community, according to LeCun, who starts his new job in January while keeping his NYU post.

Facebook's move follows Google's forays into artificial intelligence, and notably its acquisition earlier this year of DNNresearch, a start-up created by University of Toronto professor Geoffrey Hinton and two of his graduate students, known for computer models of brain functions, which includes pattern and speech recognition.

Getting computers to 'think'

AI can help computers "think" in ways similar to humans and help solve problems. In one famous example, IBM's Watson computer beat human contestants in the TV trivia game "Jeopardy."

Computer scientists have been developing AI for decades, Professor Tristan Cazenave of the Paris Dauphine University told FRANCE 24.

“We’ve been studying this discipline, which involves simulating how the human brain functions then analysing the results, since the early 1970s,” the artificial intelligence expert said. “You find AI applications everywhere, from the military, logistics, marketing, video games and even medecinze.”

LeCun's recent research projects include the application of "deep learning" methods for visual scene understanding, driverless cars and small flying robots, as well as speech recognition.

James Hendler, who heads the Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications, told AFP that Facebook already uses some artificial intelligence algorithms for its "social network graph," but that applying these to photos, videos and other "multimedia" data requires a boost in power.

"As they move into their own search and more of these new multimedia data types, they need more," Hendler said.

"I expect that it will in the short term mainly focus on improving existing algorithms, for example, better selection of what shows up in a user's Web feed.

"In the long run, we should see a lot more capabilities such as searching for photos of things one might be interested in, and more information in Facebook that results from your activities on other websites."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2013-12-16

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