Facebook Is Reading Children's Stories to Its A.I. 

A new video posted today explains how Facebook's research team intends to expand on its software's intuitive artificial intelligence. 

Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

Teaching a child to read can unlock incredible possibilities, and as canned as that mantra sounds, it holds true with a new practice that Facebook recently implemented regarding its artificial intelligence. Posted by Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer, the video details how Facebook is using grade school-level reading comprehension to educate and develop its algorithm.

“We want our algorithm to understand language,” says Antoine Boides, a Facebook A.I. Research Scientist. “For us, learning to understand means that you have to give a lot of freedom to the machine to basically try to represent the language the way it wants.” In the past, systems were able to understand things like verbs and subjects of sentences, but now, the goal is to help the software understand the meaning of those words.

The challenge is a kindergarten-level reading comprehension test, where the A.I. must finish a short “story” by answering a question about the context. The video’s example relies on identifying what color a specific imaginary animal is, after context clues were plugged into the previous four sentences of the story. Much like filling out a workbook, the A.I. must fill in the blank or answer the related question in order to pass the test.

“Giving the ability to predict to a machine through learning is one of the main things we’re working on at the research level,” explains Yann Lecun, Director of Facebook’s A.I. Research. “We think that’s going to allow our machines to become much more intelligent than they currently are.” The researchers also used more complicated children’s books, such as Alice in Wonderland, by removing one word from a sentence within the book and asking the A.I. to fill in the blanks.

Facebook hopes to further the reach of its algorithm in this sense, which prominently displays articles, posts, and other content directly related to whatever the user is searching for, watching, using, or even identifying as. The video follows a week of concern over how Facebook’s improvements to its algorithm will affect publishers and anyone who doesn’t have enough money to market. So, while the video is reassuring, it hasn’t necessarily fueled any beliefs that the algorithm is serving the user base as much as it is serving advertisers.

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