Make no mistake, Google's not the only web services-cum-big data company that wants to crack artificial intelligence. As the MIT Technology Review reported today, Facebook is working on a "deep learning" initiative, which means its making a serious run at AI.
Deep learning replicates the layers of neurons in the neocortex—the thinking part of the human brain. It's the concept behind Siri, semantic search, IBM's Watson, new medicine discovery, natural-language recognition, and, looking to the future, self-driving cars and robots in the workforce. Right now, it's the best shot we have at making the sci-fi dream of artificial intelligence a modern-day reality.
For the last two years, Google has dominated the deep learning field—not least by hiring the leading mind in the field, Geoffrey Hinton, who pioneered its use for image recognition. But it makes sense that Facebook would chase its rival in this game. The social network has a crucial resource up its sleeve: the boatload of data its been gathering from the 1 billion users (300 million active) that share hyper-personal information about their lives on the platform each day.
Big data and machine learning go hand in hand, since the "neural net" can self-teach by drawing connections and insights from the information it has access to. You probably remember when Google revealed that its virtual brain could identify cats in YouTube videos, even though no one ever told it what a cat is.
The question is, do people care if their personal data is being used to build an artificially intelligent brain that can learn even more about them? Will these powers be used for "good"—to perfect the Facebook News Feed and build new and novel features, which the company says is one potential application—or for evil?