Facebook Opens Artificial Intelligence Lab in Paris Amid Warnings about AI

Facebook has officially extended its operations outside the United States. The tech giant recently announced the opening of an artificial intelligence lab in Paris, the third one, after New York and Silicon Valley.

The Paris team, which reportedly has six researchers so far, will work in close collaboration with the other Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research (FAIR) teams on areas including natural language processing, image and speech recognition, machine learning and live translating tools.

Facebook’s artificial intelligence (AI) initiative is led by Yann LeCun, French professor at New York University, who explained that the Paris lab will be the biggest AI research facility in continental Europe. The professor stated that artificial intelligence applications will help eliminate spam and would open up new advertising opportunities. Facebook has signed an agreement with French AI institute INRIA and intends to hire PhD students, research professionals and post-doctoral researchers in the future. It was reported that the Paris team will double by the end of 2015.

Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer said the company chose Paris “for the concentration of talent it has in terms of computing and artificial intelligence.” LeCun told Wired that Facebook is interested in tapping the research talent available in Europe and wrote in a blog post that the tech giant wishes to “invest in the AI research community in France, the EU and beyond.”

Yann LeCun is one of the researchers that revolutionised deep learning (an AI movement). Companies can apply it to numerous types of data, including images, text, speech and videos. In recent years, Facebook, Google and other Silicon Valley veterans have embraced deep learning and have hired only the best in the domain. Another researcher who basically started this movement, University of Toronto professor Geoff Hinton, works at Google. The corporation led by Larry Page already operates a European artificial intelligence lab and has even purchased a U.K.-based deep learning start-up called DeepMind. The two companies (Facebook and Google) are deeply involved in AI and are competing for a rather small talent pool.

Many of the researchers at the forefront of deep learning labs are European, Chris Nicholson, founder of AI start-up Skymind told Wired. LeCun, Hinton and DeepMind’s Demis Hassabis are just a few examples and they are all employed by North American organisations. Nicholson explained that “Europe has a lot of ideas and people” that either go to the United States or “never make an impact on the mainstream.”

Facebook and Google are not the only companies interested in the perks of AI; Snapchat and Pinterest are also investing time and money into this area. Even though this domain has skyrocketed once Silicon Valley started pouring billions into studying and using AI, not everybody is pleased with where it’s going.

In early 2015, Elon Musk, the genius behind Tesla and SpaceX, and renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, as well as executives from Amazon, Microsoft and Google and researchers from Oxford, Cambridge and MIT signed an open letter calling for research to avoid the dangers of AI. Although the letter avoids any direct mentions of AI going rogue, the attached “research priority document” explains how concerned people should be about the dangers of artificial intelligence.

Neither Musk nor Hawking have shied away from admitting that artificial intelligence could transform into a menace. The CEO of Tesla warned that people should be “very careful” about AI and that this may be humanity’s “biggest existential threat,” while the physicist told the BBC that “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

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