AI: The Facebook View for the Moment

February 21, 2019

We get some insight into the current trajectory of AI from Fortune’s article, “Facebook’s Chief A.I. Scientist Yann LeCun On the Future of Computer Chips, Lawnmowers, and Deep Learning.” The write-up points to a talk on AI hardware LeCun gave at the recent International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco.

Writer Jonathan Vanian highlights three points. First, he notes the advent of specialized chips designed to save energy, which should facilitate the use of more neural networks within data centers. This could mean faster speech translation, for example, or more effective image analysis. The tech could even improve content moderation, a subject much on Facebook’s mind right now. Then there are our “smart” devices, which can be expected to grow more clever as their chips get smaller. For instance, Vanian envisions a lawn mower that could identify and pull weeds. He notes, though, that battery capacity is another conundrum altogether.

Finally, we come to the curious issue of “common sense”—so far, AIs tend to fall far short of humans in that area. We’re told:

“Despite advances in deep learning, computers still lack common sense. They would need to review thousands of images of an elephant to independently identify them in other photos. In contrast, children quickly recognize elephants because they have a basic understanding about the animals. If challenged, they can extrapolate that an elephant is merely a different kind of animal—albeit a really big one. LeCun believes that new kinds of neural networks will eventually be developed that gain common sense by sifting through a smorgasbord of data. It would be akin to teaching the technology basic facts that it can later reference, like an encyclopedia. AI practitioners could then refine these neural networks by further training them to recognize and carry out more advanced tasks than modern versions.”

The chips to facilitate that leap are not yet on the market, of course. However, LeCun seems to believe they will soon be upon us. I do hope so; perhaps these super chips will bring some much needed sense to our online discourse.

Cynthia Murrell, February 21, 2019

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