The State of Artificial Intelligence at Facebook

When you think of Facebook, you think of data, but not so much technology. Get ready for an in-depth preview of how Facebook is and is further planning to use artificial intelligence and other key tec...
The State of Artificial Intelligence at Facebook
Written by Rich Ord
  • When you think of Facebook, you think of data, but not so much technology. Get ready for an in-depth preview of how Facebook is and is further planning to use artificial intelligence and other key technologies that they see as critical to their future.

    “Facebook’s long-term roadmap is focused on building foundational technologies in three areas: connectivity, artificial intelligence and virtual reality,” wrote Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer. “We believe that major research and engineering breakthroughs in each of these areas will help us make more progress toward opening the world to everyone over the next decade.”

    Facebook Making AI Research Useful Now

    Tying all of these crucial technology projects together is AI. “We’re conducting industry-leading research to help drive advancements in AI disciplines like computer vision, language understanding and machine learning,” he says. “We then use this research to build infrastructure that anyone at Facebook can use to build new products and services. We’re also applying AI to help solve longer-term challenges as we push forward in the fields of connectivity and VR. And to accelerate the impact of AI, we’re tackling the furthest frontiers of research, such as teaching computers to learn like humans do — by observing the world.”

    Facebook has learned to quickly turn their AI research into productive uses by their development and production teams. “As the field of AI advances quickly, we’re turning the latest research breakthroughs into tools, platforms and infrastructure that make it possible for anyone at Facebook to use AI in the things they build,” said Schroepfer.

    The backbone of their AI product development is FBLearner Flow, which allows their coders to easily reuse algorithms across products. Also, very importantly considering the billions using the Facebook platform, it lets their developers run thousands of experiments to test scaling.

    Another advancement is AutoML, which according to Facebook automatically applies the results of each test to other machine learning models to make them better. This significantly improves the time to market on AI breakthroughs.

    A brand new product that they developed based on their AI research is Lumos, a self-serve platform that enables teams that haven’t been exposed to the technology a way to “harness the power of computer vision” for their products and services.

    How is AI Impacting Facebook’s Users?

    Facebook is quickly and sometimes quietly adding AI capabilities right into the products that Facebook users love. For instance, AI is used to help translate posts automatically from foreign language speaking friends. It also behind the one time controversial ranking of everyone’s News Feed. Remember when this used to be in chronological order?

    Facebook says that over the next 3-5 years AI will be used in features all across the platform.

    AI Being Used to Improve Aspects of Video

    Facebook sees video communication as its future and is working on ways to use AI to improve this experience.

    “We started working on style transfer, a technology that can learn the artistic style of a painting and then apply that style to every frame of a video,” said Schroepfer. “This is a technically difficult trick to pull off, normally requiring that the video content be sent to data centers for the pixels to be analyzed and processed by AI running on big-compute servers. But the time required for data transfer and processing made for a slower experience. Not ideal for letting people share fun content in the moment.”

    “Just three months ago we set out to do something nobody else had done before: ship AI-based style transfer running live, in real time, on mobile devices,” he added. “This was a major engineering challenge, as we needed to design software that could run high-powered computing operations on a device with unique resource constraints in areas like power, memory and compute capability.”

    All of this work has resulted in a new deep learning platform called Caffe2Go, which can capture, analyze and process pixels in real time on a mobile device, according to Facebook.

    “We found that by condensing the size of the AI model used to process images and videos by 100x, we’re able to run deep neural networks with high efficiency on both iOS and Android. This is all happening in the palm of your hand, so you can apply styles to videos as you’re taking them.”

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