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Why is Facebook Keen on Robots? It’s Just the Future of AI

For Facebook, planting a flag in the hot field also allows it to be competitive for AI talent emerging from universities, Facebook's LeCun said

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Facebook App on a smartphone device. (VOA)

Facebook announced several new hires of top academics in the field of artificial intelligence Tuesday, among them a roboticist known for her work at Disney making animated figures move in more human-like ways.

The hires raise a big question — why is Facebook interested in robots, anyway?

It’s not as though the social media giant is suddenly interested in developing mechanical friends, although it does use robotic arms in some of its data centers. The answer is even more central to the problem of how AI systems work today.

Today, most successful AI systems have to be exposed to millions of data points labeled by humans — like, say, photos of cats — before they can learn to recognize patterns that people take for granted. Similarly, game-playing bots like Google’s computerized Go master AlphaGo Zero require tens of thousands of trials to learn the best moves from their failures.

Creating systems that require less data and have more common sense is a key goal for making AI smarter in the future.

“Clearly we’re missing something in terms of how humans can learn so fast,” Yann LeCun, Facebook’s chief AI scientist, said in a call with reporters last week. “So far the best ideas have come out of robotics.”

Among the people Facebook is hiring are Jessica Hodgins , the former Disney researcher; and Abhinav Gupta, her colleague at Carnegie Mellon University who is known for using robot arms to learn how to grasp things.

Pieter Abbeel, a roboticist at University of California, Berkeley and co-founder of the robot-training company Covariant.ai, says the robotics field has benefits and constraints that push progress in AI. For one, the real world is naturally complex, so robotic AI systems have to deal with unexpected, rare events. And real-world constraints like a lack of time and the cost of keeping machinery moving push researchers to solve difficult problems.

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FILE – A visitor shakes hands with a humanoid robot at 2018 China International Robot Show in Shanghai, China, July 4, 2018. (VOA)

“Robotics forces you into many reality checks,” Abbeel said. “How good are these algorithms, really?”

There are other more abstract applications of learnings from robotics, says Berkeley AI professor Ken Goldberg. Just like teaching a robot to escape from a computerized maze, other robots change their behavior depending on whether actions they took got them closer to a goal. Such systems could even be adapted to serve ads, he said — which just happens to be the mainstay of Facebook’s business.

“It’s not a static decision, it’s a dynamic one,” Goldberg said.

In an interview, Hodgins expressed an interest in a wide range of robotics research, everything from building a “compelling humanoid robot” to creating a mechanical servant to “load and unload my dishwasher.”

While she acknowledged the need to imbue robots with more common sense and have them learn with fewer examples, she also said her work in animation could lead to a new form of sharing — one in which AI-powered tools could help one show off a work of pottery in 3-D, for example.

“One thing I hope we’ll be able to do is explore AI support for creativity,” she said.

Also Read: Facebook Accused of Protecting Far-Right Activists Who Broke the Site Rules

For Facebook, planting a flag in the hot field also allows it to be competitive for AI talent emerging from universities, Facebook’s LeCun said.

Bart Selman, a Cornell computer science professor AI expert, said it’s a good idea for Facebook to broaden its reach in AI and take on projects that might not be directly related to the company’s business — something that’s a little more “exciting” — the way Google did with self-driving cars, for example.

This attracts not just attention, but students, too. The broader the research agenda, the better the labs become, he said. (VOA)

Next Story

No one Would Buy a Huawei Smartphone Sans Google or Facebook

Despite all this, there is no respite seen for Huawei in the near future and the company is likely to witness its smartphone business dwindle

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FILE - A member of the media tries out new Huawei Honor 20 series of phones following their global launch in London, UK, May 21, 2019. VOA

By Nishant Arora

Be honest and ask yourself: Would you buy a smartphone that neither supports Android operating system and Google apps nor comes pre-installed with Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram? This is the scenario which Huawei (and its sub-brand Honor) smartphones stare at in the near future – and an imminent fall if the issue does not get resolved in the next one-two quarters.

Although the Chinese communications giant aims to launch its own operating system called “Hongmeng” to replace the Android OS on its smartphones but ‘abhi Dilli door hai’ as the OS has to see the light of the day and then users’ approval, which is the most critical part.

The absence of apps like Facebook or WhatsApp that truly define user experiences is a double whammy for Huawei.

Currently the second largest smartphone player in the world (powered by stupendous growth in non-US regions like Europe and Asia), Huawei has sensed the tough road ahead. A recent report in Nikkei Asian Review claimed that Huawei has “downgraded its forecast for total smartphone shipments in the second half of 2019 by about 20 per cent to 30 per cent from the previous estimate”.

According to Navkendar Singh, Research Director, Devices and Ecosystem, India and South Asia, IDC, almost half of Huawei’s smartphone volumes come from outside China with its wide smartphone portfolio which runs on Android with Google Mobile Services (GMS) – a collection of Google applications and application programming interfaces (APIs) that help support functionality across devices.

“China has its own ecosystem of apps which are hugely popular but only in China. Outside it, almost all popular Android apps are from Google or from US-based companies. These apps are the heart of experience of any smartphone user these days,” Singh told IANS.

“Without these apps present on its own OS, it will be very very tough for Huawei to pull in demand for its phones running on its own OS,” he added.

Sandwiched between the ongoing US-China trade war, Chinese telecom equipment major Huawei is frantically looking to salvage its prestige and fast cover the lost ground.

The company is also looking at the Indian smartphone market which has touched 450 million smartphone users and has a great potential to grow.

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Huawei smartphones are seen in front of displayed Google Play logo in this illustration picture, May 20, 2019. VOA

“In India, they have never been really able to scale up to be a major player. But considering the growth potential in India, the decision by Google and Facebook has put a spanner in the Huawei’s possible aggressive plans for the country as the next growth market in next two-three years outside of China,” Singh told IANS.

Huawei pipped Apple as the second largest smartphone seller in the first quarter of 2019 after Samsung. It clocked 17 per cent market share in the global smartphone market, according to Counterpoint Research.

The Chinese tech giant, meanwhile, has denied reports that it has cut down smartphone manufacturing.

The company, however, is reassessing its target to become the world’s top-selling smartphone vendor by 2020, after the US trade ban was put in place.

On May 15, US President Donald Trump effectively banned Huawei with a national security order.

Huawei has filed a motion in a US court challenging the constitutionality of the US President Donald Trump’s order to ban it.

Also Read- Samsung Galaxy M40 Tech Review: Stunning Display, Better Chipset

According to reports, Google has also discussed with the US government about an exemption from the Huawei ban, saying it is bad for the company’s technology business.

Despite all this, there is no respite seen for Huawei in the near future and the company is likely to witness its smartphone business dwindle.

Unless, a miracle happens. (IANS)