Three AI research projects Meta is working on this yearLeigh Mc Gowranon February 24, 2022 at 12:14 Silicon RepublicSilicon Republic


Facebook’s parent company Meta has announced where its research into AI technology is focused for the year ahead, which it says is important to building the metaverse.

In a statement yesterday (23 February), the tech giant said the metaverse is the “most ambitious long-term project” the company has attempted and will require major advances in “almost every technology we work with”. The company added that AI breakthroughs will be required for many of these advances.

Metaverse is the term the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg coined last year to refer to the augmented reality (AR) ‘universe’, which he described as the “successor to the mobile internet”.

Speaking at an online demonstration yesterday, Zuckerberg shared some of the company’s ambitious AI projects. He also said the AI systems in Meta’s virtual worlds will preserve privacy, as well as being transparent and responsible, BBC reports.

“As we build for the metaverse, we’ll need AI to do much of the heavy lifting that makes next-generation computing experiences possible,” the company said in a statement. “This means continuing to break ground in areas like self-supervised learning, so we aren’t dependent on limited labeled data sets, and truly multimodal AI, so we can accurately interpret and predict the kind of interactions that will take place in persistent, virtual 3D spaces with lots of participants.”

Meta has been investing in AI research for some time. The company recently said its AI research team has been working for years on a supercomputer. The researchers believe it could be the world’s “largest and fastest” supercomputer when fully built out in mid-2022.

The tech giant shared details of their upcoming research projects online, with a variety of goals for the years ahead. However, the projects listed have no detailed mention of using AI for moderation, a challenge that online social spaces are facing.

Yesterday, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said improvements in online safety is an urgent matter. This was in response to a BBC investigation where a researcher posing as a 13-year-old girl witnessed grooming, sexual material and threats of rape on a virtual-reality app, accessible from an app store on Facebook’s Meta Quest headset.

Here are some of the key research projects in AI that Meta has announced:

Universal speech translation

The tech giant said billions of people are unable to access information on the internet in their native language, due to language barriers in machine translation (MT) systems.

Meta said certain languages such as English, Spanish and Mandarin are easily translated by modern MT systems, while they struggle to translate “low-resource languages” that lack available training data or a standardised writing system.

In order to address this, Meta is working on two long term projects. The first is called No Language Left Behind, an AI model that could learn from languages with fewer examples to train from, to translate hundreds of languages.

The second idea is a Universal Speech Translator, which aims to use “novel approaches” to translate speech from one language to another in real time, to better support languages that lack a standardised writing system.

“It will take much more work to provide everyone around the world with truly universal translation tools,” the company said. “But we believe the efforts described here are an important step forward.”

The tech giant also said it plans to work on universal translation “responsibly”, by looking into ways mitigate bias and “preserve cultural sensitivities” as information passed from one language to another.

Last year, documents shared by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen indicated that the company was ill-equipped to address issues such as hate speech and misinformation in languages other than English, CNN reports. This concern was brought up by Facebook researchers.

Speaking at a Joint Oireachtas committee yesterday, Haugen said Facebook research has indicated that using AI or MT systems to address issues such as hate speech is limited, as “language is nuanced”.

AI that can learn like humans and animals

Meta’s chief AI scientist Yann LeCun has noted the current issues in the ability for AI to learn, saying a human can learn to drive in about 20 hours, while autonomous driving systems need massive amounts of data and trails in virtual environments.

In order to improve the ability for AI to learn, LeCun is looking into new ways to develop “human-level AI”, by mimicking the way animals learn.

“Human and nonhuman animals seem able to learn enormous amounts of background knowledge about how the world works through observation and through an incomprehensibly small amount of interactions in a task-independent, unsupervised way,” LeCun says. “It can be hypothesised that this accumulated knowledge may constitute the basis for what is often called common sense.”

The company noted in a blog post that developing machines that can think like humans is a long-term endeavour “with no guarantees of success”.

“But we are confident that fundamental research will continue to produce a deeper understanding of both minds and machines, and will lead to advances that benefit everyone who uses AI,” Meta said.

Conversational assistant AI

Meta is also looking into early tests to create better assistant AI that can be more conversational and natural when dealing with users.

The company said it has developed “an end-to-end neural model” that can power more personal and contextual AI conversations, called Project Cairaoke. A test model has been implemented into Portal, Meta’s video calling device, for testing.

“Even in this early test, we believe the model outperforms standard approaches,” Meta said in a post. “On Portal, we observed a significant improvement compared with our existing approach in the evaluation of the reminders domain as measured by the success rate of completing a set of reminders goals, while maintaining on-par number of turns.”

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