Facebook seeks to get smarter with big data

Facebook seeks to get smarter with big data

WASHINGTON - Facebook is working to become your new best friend, getting to know you better by infusing the billion-member social network's software with artificial intelligence.

The California-based social network giant is hiring professor Yann LeCun of NYU's Center for Data Science to head up a new artificial intelligence lab, aiming to use cutting-edge science to make Facebook more interesting and relevant.

For now, Facebook feeds may seem like a random jumble, but LeCun argues these "can be improved by intelligent systems."

"This could include things like ranking (the items in) news feeds, or determining the ads that are shown to users, to be more relevant," LeCun told AFP after his appointment on December 9.

"Then there are things that are less directly connected, like analysing content, understanding natural language and being able to model users... to allow them to learn new things, entertain them and help them achieve their goals."

Facebook is the world's biggest social network, but it faces the challenge of maintaining growth, keeping users engaged and delivering enough advertising to generate revenue growth without turning members off.

LeCun said the new artificial intelligence lab would be the largest research facility of its kind in the world, though he declined to provide numbers.

"We're limited only by how many smart people there are in the world that we can hire," the French-born mathematician and computer scientist said. The lab will be based in three locations - New York, London and Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California. But it will also be part of the broader artificial intelligence research community, according to LeCun, who starts his new job in January while keeping his NYU post.

Facebook's move follows Google's forays into artificial intelligence, and notably its acquisition earlier this year of DNNresearch, a startup created by University of Toronto professor Geoffrey Hinton and two of his graduate students, known for computer models of brain functions, which includes pattern and speech recognition.

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