Five years is an awful lot of time in the tech industry. Darling startups find ways to crash and burn. Trends that seem unstoppable sputter-out. In the field of artificial intelligence, the past five years have been nothing short of transformative.
Facebook’s AI Research lab (FAIR) turns five years old this month, and just as the social media giant has left an indelible mark on the broader culture — for better or worse — the work coming out of FAIR has seen some major impact in the AI research community and entrenched itself in the way Facebook operates.
“You wouldn’t be able to run Facebook without deep learning,” Facebook Chief AI Scientist Yann LeCun tells TechCrunch. “It’s very, very deep in every aspect of the operation.”
Reflecting on the formation of his team, LeCun recalls his central task in initially creating the research group was “inventing what it meant to do research at Facebook.”
“Facebook didn’t have any research lab before FAIR, it was the first one, until then the company was very much focused on short-term engineering projects with six-month deadlines, if not less,” he says.
Five years after its formation, FAIR’s influence permeates the company. The group has labs in Menlo Park, New York, Paris, Montreal, Tel Aviv, Seattle, Pittsburgh and London. They’ve partnered with academic institutions and published countless papers and studies, many of which the group has enumerated in this handy five-year anniversary timeline here.
“I said ‘No’ to creating a research lab for my first five years at Facebook,” CTO Mike Schroepfer wrote in a Facebook post. “In 2013, it became clear AI would be critical to the long-term future of Facebook. So we had to figure this out.”
The research group’s genesis came shortly after LeCun stopped by Mark Zuckerberg’s house for dinner. “I told [Zuckerberg] how research labs should be organized, particularly the idea of practicing open research.” LeCun said. “What I heard from him, I liked a lot, because he said openness is really in the DNA of the company.”
FAIR has the benefit of longer timelines that allow it to be more focused in maintaining its ethos. There is no “War Room” in the AI labs, and much of the group’s most substantial research ends up as published work that benefits the broader AI community. Nevertheless, in many ways, AI is very much an arms race for Silicon Valley tech companies. The separation between FAIR and Facebook’s Applied Machine Learning (AML) team, which focuses more on imminent product needs, gives the group a “huge, huge amount of leeway to really think about the long term,” LeCun says.
I chatted with LeCun about some of these long-term visions for the company, which evolved into him spitballing about what he’s working on now and where he’d like to see improvements. “First, there’s going to be considerable progress in things that we already have quite a good handle on…”
A big trend for LeCun seems to be FAIR doubling down on work that impacts how people can more seamlessly interact with data systems and get meaningful feedback.
“We’ve had this project that is a question-and-answer system that basically can answer any question if the information is somewhere in Wikipedia. It’s not yet able to answer really complicated questions that require extracting information from multiple Wikipedia articles and cross-referencing them,” LeCun says. “There’s probably some progress there that will make the next generation of virtual assistants and data systems considerably less frustrating to talk to.”
Some of the biggest strides in machine learning over the past five years have taken place in the vision space, where machines are able to parse out what’s happening in an image frame. LeCun predicts greater contextual understanding is on its way.
“You’re going to see systems that can not just recognize the main object in an image but basically will outline every object and give you a textual description of what’s happening in the image, kind of a different, more abstract understanding of what’s happening.”
FAIR has found itself tackling disparate and fundamental problems that have wide impact on how the rest of the company functions, but a lot of these points of progress sit deeper in the five-year timeline.
FAIR has already made some progress in unsupervised learning, and the company has published work on how they are utilizing some of these techniques to translate between languages for which they lack sufficient training data so that, in practical terms, users needing translations from something like Icelandic to Swahili aren’t left out in the cold.
As FAIR looks to its next five years, LeCun contends there are some much bigger challenges looming on the horizon that the AI community is just beginning to grapple with.
“Those are all relatively predictable improvements,” he says. “The big prize we are really after is this idea of self-supervised learning — getting machines to learn more like humans and animals and requiring that they have some sort of common sense.”
Instagram Stories links are now available for all accounts
Instagram has confirmed that it’s bringing the ability to and links to Stories for all user accounts. When Stories links were first revealed, they were only available for verified accounts or accounts with a certain number of followers. However, Instagram says over the years it has seen that the ability to share links to stories is helpful, so it’s expanding access to everyone.
The Instagram community has been asking for Stories links for everyone to make sharing content with friends and family easier. Links are now available for sharing for everyone with no stipulation on account size. To add links to Stories, users can use the Link sticker.
When people click the sticker, they will be redirected. Adding a Link sticker is easy and starts with capturing or uploading content to the story. Users then select the sticker tool from the navigation bar and tap the Link sticker to add the desired link. Once that is complete, users can place the sticker on their story, and there are variations of the sticker available.
Instagram also says it’s working on customizing the sticker to make it clear what users will see when they tap it. Instagram is also talking about its ongoing effort to keep its community of users safe. To facilitate safety, new accounts and accounts that repeatedly share content, including hate speech or misinformation, as well as anything that violates community guidelines, won’t have access to the Link sticker.
The Link sticker isn’t the only change Instagram has made this month. Previously, Instagram announced that its desktop app was getting photo upload capability. Before adding the capability to upload content from the desktop app, all uploading had to be done from the mobile app. The change was implemented on October 21.
2021 MacBook Pro teardown tease shows what’s on the inside
It’s very common for manufacturers like Apple to release new products, and fans always want to know what they look like on the inside. However, the last thing most of us want to do is tear apart our brand-new and expensive gadgets to look. Thankfully, IFIXIT has been gutting new devices for a long time, giving us a look at what’s on the inside without having to trash our own hardware.
Right now, a teardown for the 2021 MacBook Pro is being teased with a few pictures ahead of the full reveal. As you would expect, everything is packed very tightly into the thin and lightweight MacBook Pro notebooks. While there are no real details offered at this time about the hardware inside, we already know what to expect from Apple’s official event.
Apple has fitted its 2021 model notebooks with additional ports. An improved keyboard is integrated that hopefully won’t break if you eat lunch and work at the same time. MagSafe charging is integrated, and Apple ditched the Touch Bar for traditional function keys. The real changes come in new Apple silicon running the show. One interesting tidbit that has been shared from the full teardown is that the battery cells have pull tabs to make them easier to remove and aren’t crammed under a logic board.
We hope that means should your battery go bad down the road; you don’t have to completely disassemble the notebook to install a new one. The four outer cells of the battery have pull tabs similar to those used in the iPhone and MacBook Air. However, we will have to wait for the full teardown to know everything about these batteries and just how easy they are to remove and replace.
The prospect of more DIY friendly component placements should have Mac fans excited. The gang also got their hands on that $20 official Apple polishing cloth, simply called the “Polishing Cloth.” A price of $19 is pretty steep for cloth used to shine the screen of your iPhone, but it has an Apple logo, and that’s enough for some. The cloth feels like Alcantara and appears to be the same material used inside the iPad Smart Cover.
Android apps on Chrome OS will soon behave better with Compatibility mode
Although it isn’t exactly the one Google OS to rule them all, Chrome OS has long been able to run both of Google’s preferred platforms and then some. It did take a while before it could properly handle Android apps and, even then, there are still a lot of rough edges thanks to the wide variety and quality of those apps. Years after there have been tablets, many Android apps still live in a phone-only world, but that’s, fortunately, changing with Google’s latest push for big-screen Android devices and, of course, Chromebooks.
Android apps that have been made only with phones in mind behave unpredictably or undesirably on large screens. On tablets, they often force a portrait orientation, which can be awkward and unusable for tablets 10 inches or greater in size. On Chromebooks, the app’s UI gets stretched, delivering a very suboptimal experience.
Some Android apps let windows be resized on Chrome OS, allowing users to select what best works for them. Not all apps support this, however, and it’s often a guessing game that people shouldn’t have to play. With the upcoming Android 12L changes, they won’t have to.
As spotted by Chrome Unboxed last month, Google has been working on a compatibility mode for Android apps on Chrome OS and, apparently, on Android tablets, too. This will add a very conspicuous button in the middle of an Android app’s window title bar, indicating that a certain app’s UI is optimized for a certain form factor. More importantly, this feature automatically resizes an app’s window to make it look and behave better on Chromebooks and even lets users switch between different form options.
This is part of Google’s newly-announced push to support large-screen Android devices, what it calls Android 12L. Ideally, developers would design their apps to support different screen sizes and form factors, including foldables, but this Compatibility Mode at least offers a stop-gap measure for apps that don’t.
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