Obnoxious Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently posted on his company’s site that he wants to develop an artificial intelligence system for his home that would work essentially as a digital butler, albeit an eerily impersonal one. Zuckerberg recently christened 2016 the Year of the Bot and compared the service to Jarvis, the AI butler from Jon Favreau’s mega-blockbuster Iron Man. Tech stars like Elon Musk of Tesla and venture capitalist Peter Thiel both recently warned that AI’s in the future could potentially go rogue and threaten the existence of humanity. While we swim in the realm of dubious Hollywood action films, i doubt an actual AI mutiny-apocalypse would be as action-packed and look as sleek as the off-white, dystopian androids in I, Robot.
Leading tech companies like Apple, Google and Amazon have made pioneering forays into the business of the smart home, aka the Internet of Things. Amazon launched a version of AWS (Amazon Web Services) for processing data from devices like cars and tractors. Apple released the HomeKit platform. Also, Google purchased the smart thermostat maker Nest for $3.2 billion. However, this little Zuckerberg pet project presents a difficult software coding challenge and would require developers to think of new ways for people to interact with machines. Zuckerberg sets personal challenges for himself every year but none have presented a software coding test that would have such a direct impact on Facebook’s long-term future.
Theoretically, the majority of the services would revolve around video cameras that can monitor and recognize important changes in the environment and faces in particular. Among the potential tasks:
1) Recognize the faces of Supreme Cheese’s friends and let them in. 2) Watch and detect any changes in the room of Zuckerberg’s infant daughter (let’s hope she inherited mom’s face). 3) Use facial recognition to set the temperature of a room based on Mr. Z’s (as he prefers to be called) personal preference. A reporter asked Zuckerberg about the potential dangers of an AI system in people’s homes and he brushed it off, saying, “I think we can build [artificial intelligence] so it works for us and helps us.”
Facebook now has artificial intelligence labs in Silicon Valley, New York and Paris. It hired a high-profile NYU professor, Yann LeCun, a pioneer in deep learning. Deep learning is a form of artificial intelligence that tries to mimic the way layers of neurons in the human brain operate. One revolutionary sub-category of deep learning, neural coding, attempts to more clearly define relationships between an array of external stimuli and associated neural responses in the brain.
Other challenges Zuckerberg tackled in the past were reading two books every month and learning Mandarin. I suggest he add not being such a contrived little douche to his list.