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Facebook CTO lays out roadmap

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Facebook’s long-term roadmap is focused on building technologies in connectivity, AI, and VR as it believes research in these areas will help us progress toward opening the world to everyone, writes MIKE SCHROEPFER, Facebook CTO.

Our work in AI is helping us move all these projects forward. We’re conducting industry-leading research to help drive advancements in AI disciplines like computer vision, language understanding, and machine learning. We then use this research to build infrastructure that anyone at Facebook can use to build new products and services. We’re also applying AI to help solve longer-term challenges as we push forward in the fields of connectivity and VR. And to accelerate the impact of AI, we’re tackling the furthest frontiers of research, such as teaching computers to learn like humans do — by observing the world.

Our approach: From research to platforms to production

As the field of AI advances quickly, we’re turning the latest research breakthroughs into tools, platforms, and infrastructure that make it possible for anyone at Facebook to use AI in the things they build. Examples include:

  • FBLearner Flow: The backbone of AI-based product development at Facebook. This platform makes AI available to everyone at Facebook for a wide variety of purposes. FBLearner Flow has helped make AI so accessible within Facebook that nearly 70% of the people using the platform here are not AI experts. With the help of the platform we’re now seeing twice as many AI experiments run per month at Facebook compared with six months ago.
  • AutoML: The infrastructure that allows engineers to optimize new AI models using existing AI. Put another way: We’re training and testing more than 300,000 machine learning models each month, and AutoML can automatically apply the results of each test to other machine learning models to make them better. This eliminates work for engineers and helps us improve our AI capabilities faster.
  • Lumos: A new self-serve platform that allows teams to harness the power of computer vision for their products and services without the need for prior expertise. For the teams who work to keep people on Facebook safe, this has helped improve our ability to spot content that violates our community standards.

With infrastructure like FBLearnerFlow, AutoML, and Lumos, AI research is going into production at Facebook faster than ever.

AI already improving Facebook products and services

As engineers apply AI at scale, it’s already making an impact on the lives of people who use our products and services every day. AI assists in automatically translating posts for friends who speak different languages, and in ranking News Feed to show people more-relevant stories. Over the next three to five years, we’ll see even more new features as AI expands across Facebook.

Even more exciting, AI can enable entirely new tools for creativity and connection. As people increasingly express themselves through video, we’ve been focused on giving people more video-first ways to share across the Facebook family of apps. As part of this, we started working on style transfer, a technology that can learn the artistic style of a painting and then apply that style to every frame of a video. This is a technically difficult trick to pull off, normally requiring that the video content be sent to data centers for the pixels to be analyzed and processed by AI running on big-compute servers. But the time required for data transfer and processing made for a slower experience. Not ideal for letting people share fun content in the moment.

Just three months ago we set out to do something nobody else had done before: ship AI-based style transfer running live, in real time, on mobile devices. This was a major engineering challenge, as we needed to design software that could run high-powered computing operations on a device with unique resource constraints in areas like power, memory, and compute capability. The result is Caffe2Go, a new deep learning platform that can capture, analyze, and process pixels in real time on a mobile device. We found that by condensing the size of the AI model used to process images and videos by 100x, we’re able to run deep neural networks with high efficiency on both iOS and Android. This is all happening in the palm of your hand, so you can apply styles to videos as you’re taking them. Check out our blog post to read more on how we did this.

Having an industrial-strength deep learning platform on mobile enables other possibilities too. We can create gesture-based controls, where the computer can see where you’re pointing and activate different styles or commands. We can recognize facial expressions and perform related actions, like putting a “yay” filter over your selfie when you smile. With Caffe2Go, AI has opened the door to new ways for people to express themselves.

AI powers innovation in VR and connectivity for the next decade

 

AI is also making a big impact on the new technologies that will shape the next decade.

In VR, image and video processing software powered by computer vision is improving immersive experiences and helping to support hardware advances. Earlier this year we announced a new stabilization technology for 360 videos, powered by computer vision. And computer vision software is enabling inside-out tracking to help usher in a whole new category of VR beyond PC and mobile, as we announced at Oculus Connect 3 last month. This will help make it possible to build high-quality, standalone VR headsets that aren’t tethered to a PC.

Our work on speech recognition is also helping us create more-realistic avatars and new UI tools for VR. You can see a great example from our social VR demo at Oculus Connect 3, when the avatars moved their lips in sync with the speaking voices. This helps to create a feeling of presence with other people in VR. To do this, we built a custom library that maps speech signals into visemes (visual lip movement).

Speech recognition can also make it easier to interact with your environment in VR through hands-free voice commands. Our Applied Machine Learning team is working with teams across Facebook to explore more applications for social VR and the Oculus platform.

AI technologies are also contributing to our connectivity projects, including aerial systems like Aquila and terrestrial systems like Terragraph. With computer vision tools we can perform better analyses of potential deployment plans as we explore different modes of connectivity technology. This has already helped us map the world’s population density in much more accurate detail than ever before, giving us a clearer picture of where specific connectivity technologies would be most effective. And now we’re applying computer vision to 3D city analysis to help plan deployments of millimeter wave technologies like Terragraph in dense urban areas. As wireless networks become denser with increasing bandwidth demand, this automated solution lets us process more radio installation sites at a finer granularity. The system first detects possible installation sites for network equipment by separating poles from other aspects of the urban environment (trees, ground, and wires) using 3D city data. Then the AI algorithm performs line-of-sight analysis to identify radio propagation paths connecting nearby sites with clear line-of-sight. Finally, an optimization framework will use the data to automatically plan a network with optimal site and path selection to serve the bandwidth demand.

The next research challenges in AI

To continue accelerating the impact of AI, we’re also investing in long-term research. In recent years, the state of AI research has advanced very quickly — but there’s still a long way to go before computers can learn, plan, and reason like humans. That’s the next frontier of AI research.

Computers are quickly getting better at understanding a visual scene and identifying the objects within each frame. Even in the last few years, computer systems have advanced from basic image segmentation (drawing a box around the area where an object is located) to an ability to segment these objects more precisely and label them with information. Now, we can even apply this to video to calculate human poses in real time.

With the ability to label objects, computers can generate captions about what’s happening in a photo. This is what helps us describe photos to visually impaired people on Facebook today. But at the same time, the technology is still very early and it’s not perfect yet. Below you can see one example of where this technology worked well, followed by one where it went wrong:

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And while computers can label objects more or less accurately, they still can’t take it one step further to understand the context surrounding the objects they see. For example, look at the image below this paragraph. Is that a vegetarian pizza?

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It’s not. But how did you know? To come up with your answer, you first saw and identified the sausage on the pizza. Then you applied context in the form of facts and concepts that you know about the world — like, “sausage is meat” and “vegetarian means that there is no meat.” Computers can’t do this, because they don’t have contextual understanding of the world.

Some of our research has focused on giving computers this contextual understanding. To do this, we need to give them a model by which they can understand the world — a set of facts and concepts they can draw from in order to answer questions like the one about the pizza. We also need computers to remember multiple facts at once. In the example below, our team trained computers with structured data and Memory Networks to enable simple reasoning. A year ago, no AI system could complete tasks like the ones you see below. But progress is moving very quickly. A few months ago, we published research in which we trained computers to perform 19 out of 20 tasks correctly. And just last week, we submitted a paper for academic review that presents a new type of system, Recurrent Entity Network, that can solve all 20 tasks.

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The problem is, most data is not neatly structured in the real world. So to reason more like humans, computers must be able to pick relevant facts from an unstructured source, like a Wikipedia article, and apply those facts to answering a question. It’s early, but we’re working on this with research on key value memory networks. Below is a project called WikiQ&A where we’ve trained computers to answer questions that require identifying and combining a few facts from unstructured text.

Despite this progress, there’s a lot more work required to make computer systems truly intelligent. Prediction is one important component of intelligence that humans learn naturally but computers can’t yet do. To understand this, think of holding a water bottle above the ground and letting go. What happens to the bottle?

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You know that the bottle will fall. You learned this through a process called predictive learning — by forming hypotheses and testing them. As a toddler, you threw food off table, and quickly you realized that it would fall. But looking at this scenario, a computer has no ability to tell what will happen next. We’re coming up with methods that allow computers to learn by observing the world. In this example, the computer attempts to predict what will happen next in the video by observing the previous frames. This is the state-of-the-art in AI today. It’s the best prediction we’ve been able to achieve, but it’s not perfect yet. You can see that the image gets fuzzier as we advance forward in time, indicating the computer is less sure about what will happen. This area of research is very early, and there’s a long way to go, but computers can eventually learn the ability to predict the future by observing, modeling, and reasoning.

It’s exciting how AI has progressed over such a short time, and it’s exciting to think about what’s next. When our research succeeds in teaching computers all the abilities I outlined above — context, knowledge about the world, reasoning, and predicting — these will add up to something like what we call common sense. And when computers have common sense they can interact with us in better, more natural ways, from surfacing the most relevant information for us and assisting us with tasks to enabling whole new ways for people to connect. We’re off to a good start, and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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