Facebook will dramatically accelerate its research into artificial intelligence, its chief AI scientist said Tuesday, in hopes of ensuring the social network doesn't fall behind with the technology it will need to contend with Internet rivals and police its gargantuan audience. The world's biggest social network said it would recruit high-profile engineers and expand its AI-research division to roughly 170 scientists and engineers across eight global offices, including Paris, Pittsburgh, Montreal, London and Tel Aviv. The expansion of the international labs and new academic partnerships will be devoted to the study of robotics, virtual animation, learning machines and other forms of AI. Yann LeCun, Facebook's chief AI scientist and an early machine-learning architect, said the expanded research effort was pushed by Facebook leaders such as CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "AI has become so central to the operations of companies like ours, that what our leadership has been telling us is: 'Go faster.
The monitors are piled in side-by-side, one on top of the other, and there's barely enough room for the 20 or so research scientists and engineers, who work for the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research (FAIR) group. "We're moving to a new office soon," says Joelle Pineau, head of FAIR's Montreal lab and an associate professor at McGill University. Pineau's lab has grown from four people to 20 since it was established a little over a year ago, and it isn't the only FAIR lab expanding rapidly. The FAIR group as a whole -- tasked with advancing the field of AI -- has grown to almost 200 researchers worldwide since it was founded by Facebook's chief AI scientist Yann LeCun in 2013, and is set to double by 2020. Its mission: to develop the smartest machines possible.
Facebook's hiring of French artificial-intelligence trailblazer Yann LeCun in 2013 to start its AI Research lab signaled that the social-media giant was serious about competing in the kinds of technologies revolutionizing the Web. Its highly visible brand of AI helped turn the flood of pictures, pokes and personal data into one of the world's most popular websites.
Several leading figures in AI, including LeCun, have studied or taught at Canadian universities. Reinforcement learning builds on deep learning to let machines learn through experimentation. Michael Bowling, a U.S.-born computer scientist who leads a lab at the University of Alberta that has produced cutting-edge poker-playing machines, says the new Facebook lab simply shows that Canada already leads the rest of the world in AI. Indeed, after seeing AI researchers snapped up by big U.S. companies in recent years, Canada may well hope that the environment fostered by new labs, including the one in Montreal, will eventually produce companies that rival the likes of Facebook.