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Facebook’s New AI Sports More ‘Common Sense,’ Says Chief Scientist

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Facebook's New AI will offer more common sense says head scientist, Yann LeCun

The rising popularity of artificial intelligence has made tech companies busy in recent years. Now, Facebook may be the next one to release its own AI.

Facebook’s Chief AI scientist, Yann LeCun has announced in recent interviews that the tech giant is developing its own AI chips that could help it make more conversational digital assistants and intelligently monitor Facebook content in real time.

“In terms of new uses, one thing Facebook would be interested in is offering smart digital assistants — something that has a level of common sense,” LeCun told the Financial Times. “They have background knowledge, and you can have a discussion with them on any topic.”

According to reports, LeCun aims to develop a digital assistant for Facebook that is more like humans, and that understands “what will happen when the world responds to [its] interactions with it.”

Aside from smart assistants, Facebook also plans to develop AI chips that can intelligently monitor contents in real time, with the intention to support human moderators in deciding what to keep in the social network and what to remove. Further, he said that Facebook is developing the chips with lower power consumption and faster information processing capabilities.

Last April, the company have started assembling a team of scientists and tech engineers to develop the said chips, as they aim to keep pace with other tech giants like Google, Intel, and Qualcomm in the AI arms race. The social media offered jobs in AI chip development and machine learning for Oculus virtual reality headsets. Facebook already utilizes artificial intelligence in fighting off bots, fake accounts, and fixing images (like auto-tagging).

At the 2019 International Solid-State Circuits Conference on Tuesday, LeCun also said that computer chips, nowadays, are not optimized for deep learning, that’s why people are “trying to design new ways of representing numbers that will be more efficient.”

If Facebook releases its new AI chips soon, it will become the latest company to release smart assistants following the path taken by Google, Apple, and Intel. Other intelligent assistants that have already been released are Alexa and Siri that has had grown its popularity throughout the years.

A consumer tech and cybersecurity journalist who does content marketing while daydreaming about having unlimited coffee for life and getting a pet llama.

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Cryptocurreny

Facebook Digital Money — Libra — To Debut Next Week With Huge Backers

Facebook is set to debut its own digital money known as Libra; multiple companies like VISA and Mastercard backs up the new currency. Click To Tweet

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Facebook is set to debut its own digital money known as Libra; multiple companies backs up the new currency.
The new digital money is called Libra. Photo: SEOPlanter | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Rumors have circulated online regarding Facebook releasing its crypto-based currency, and the talks appear to be accurate as multiple companies – from financial companies to booking websites – have signed up to back up the Facebook money.

Reports suggest that multiple companies, including VISA and Mastercard, have signed up to back the digital currency that Facebook is planning to launch by 2020. Other companies include Paypal, the popular money transfer service, Uber, the ride-hailing application, and Booking.com, a travel booking platform.

The cryptocurrency is reportedly said to be named Libra, and the financial and e-commerce companies, venture capitalists and telecommunications firms will invest around $10 million each in a consortium that will govern the digital coin. The consortium, known as Libra Association, was built for Facebook to establish a group of companies that will back its monetary efforts.

Facebook opens a Swiss company to focus on the digital money venture

A few weeks ago, the social networking giant reportedly opened up a company in Switzerland to focus on payment and blockchain technology, similar to the technology that powers bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies.

Read: Facebook Opens A Swiss Company To Develop Own Virtual Currency, Report Suggests

People familiar with the matter said that Facebook is planning to unveil the new digital currency next week and will start the operation next year. The money is expected to act as a “stable coin” because it is hinged on government-issued currencies in order to limit the volatility of the value of the coin; an issue which Bitcoin has faced for some time. According to a Swiss publication, Handelszeitung, the Facebook cryptocurrency would be tied to the US dollar and therefore will remain stable unlike bitcoin, which started crashing since 2017.

Owned by Facebook Global Holding II in Ireland, the Swiss company will focus on developing the software and hardware for crypto-related functions like payments, blockchain, analytics, big data, and identity management.

Facebook is hesitant to comment regarding their plans for the digital currency and did not confirm nor denied the reports of its existence. Nonetheless, the news is consistent with an earlier report that Facebook created a team of 50 individuals to develop their cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to be used across the network and on its WhatsApp messaging services.

That design would be geared toward avoiding a speculative frenzy like the one that caused the value of the primary cryptocurrency, bitcoin, to soar and then crash. While Facebook also did not confirm anything related to the leaked project at the time, the California-based company confirmed that they are interested in blockchain technology.

“Like many other companies, Facebook is exploring ways to leverage the power of blockchain technology,” the company said in a statement. “This new small team is exploring many different applications.”

It isn’t known, even to some members of the consortium, how the coin will work or what their roles will be, people familiar with the project said. However, it is also noted that regulatory hurdles are still high for Facebook to overcome with this new project. People familiar with the matter said that the concerns were raised regarding the potential of the new currency to be used by terrorist organizations and money launderers in their operations – something other cryptocurrencies have since been associated with.

Interesting partnership with potential competition

But investors are nonetheless interested in the project as other companies back up the new digital money in hopes of gaining traction with millions of Facebook users around the world. It is interesting that to note that the involvement of VISA and Mastercard to a service that will practically, if successful, would pose a threat to their business as one of their biggest competitors.

Other analysts have seen value with this partnership, however. Still, the lure of Facebook’s nearly 2.4 billion monthly active users was too strong for many companies to pass up. Card companies have long fretted that a technology giant could muscle into their business, creating a payment option that cuts out card networks. Participating in Libra allows them to closely monitor Facebook’s payment ambitions while sharing in the upside should the project gain traction with consumers.

Meanwhile, Facebook will not be having control over the new venture – nor will the consortium. Some of the members could serve as “nodes” along with the system that verifies transactions and maintains records of them, creating a brand-new payments network, according to people familiar with the setup.

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Facebook Usage Forecast Continues To Decline

The future isn’t too bright for Facebook all along.

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Facebook is compensating numbers using Instagram's and WhatsApp's growth to cover the fact up that their number is on a decline.
Average US Facebook Usage Time is down by three minutes in 2018. Photo: Stock Catalog | CC BY 2.0

Facebook’s engagement is shrinking — as Americans spend less and less time on the social media network. The future isn’t bright for Facebook either, and they are expected to see a declining trend in US time spent on the platform, a study reveals.

A report published by eMarketer showed that the average time spent on the social media giant declined by 3 minutes in 2018 and is expected to continue decreasing until 2021 — where it is predicted to plateau.

This year, US Adult Facebook users will spend only 38 minutes per day browsing the site, which is down by two minutes in the company’s previous forecast. Furthermore, they expect that by 2020, the average time spent will drop more to 37 minutes per day.

“Facebook’s continued loss of younger adult users, along with its focus on downranking clickbait posts and videos in favor of those that create ‘time well spent,’ resulted in less daily time spent on the platform in 2018 than we had previously expected,” eMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson said. “Less time spent on Facebook translates into fewer chances for marketers to reach the network’s users.”

For spectators, a few minutes drop in time spending among American may not be significant, but it is a very alarming trend for Facebook whose business depends mainly on advertising and ad revenues. Analysts argue that since the US is one of Facebook’s most lucrative market, a decline in the engagement level in the tech giant’s flagship service may force advertisers to use other advertising platforms.

Nonetheless, the future of Facebook may depend on Instagram soon as engagement levels are on an increasing trend. Average daily time on the Facebook-owned platform will reach 27 minutes this year among US adult users. And time spent will increase by 1 minute every year through 2021, according to the researchers.

“Features like Stories, influencer content and video are all contributing to more engagement and a slow but steady uptick in time spent on Instagram,” Williamson said.

App “family metrics” will be published; no more Facebook-only numbers

According to some people knowledgeable on the matter, it could also be the reason for Facebook’s decision to stop communicating their engagement data to the public. Besides, having bad data is also similar to having no business at all.

Instead, according to Facebook, it will start publishing collective metrics for its “family” of apps, which includes Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

“Over time, we expect family metrics will play the primary role in how we talk about our company, and we will eventually phase out Facebook-only community metrics,” Facebook’s CFO Dave Wehner said during the call.

Facebook is probably doing this to project growth even if the growth of Facebook (the social media platform) is on the decline and the growth of other platforms such as Instagram may compensate for the bad numbers in Facebook’s arsenal.

Controversy after controversy

Analysts and researchers posit that Facebook’s shrinking numbers are affected by a series of controversies over security that the company has faced in the last few years. The tech giant has been repeatedly slammed for their failure to protect their users’ privacy in different occasions.

Only recently, a study published by Consumer Reports suggests that there are a lot of Facebook users who can’t turn off the facial recognition feature and cannot prevent the social media network from using the technology to identify their faces in the platform. According to CR, they have found out that eight out of the 31 test accounts that they used in the study does not have an option to turn off facial recognition. As an implication, it is possible that there are more users out there who don’t have the same ability even if the researchers have noted that they are still unsure whether there are others.

Furthermore, the growing number of fake news and fake accounts used for political motives also dissuades users from using Facebook as often as they used to. Even if the company has renewed its commitment to end the swath of fake news and fake profiles on its platform, the problem persist and the perception of people over the way the company is handling the problem does not change.

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Company Denies “Unethical” Collection Of IG Influencer Data Following Online Exposure

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The company accused of exposing personal info of celebrities and IG influencers said that they did not get the data from "unethical" sources but researchers don't agree.

Chtrbox, the Indian marketing and promotions company accused of sourcing millions of celebrities and Instagram influencers illegally and exposing the database online, denied the allegations that they unethically sourced the data in the discovered leaked data pool.

In late May, a tech researcher found an exposed database containing the personal and private information of millions of celebrities, social media influencers, and brand accounts from Instagram. Following an investigation conducted by the researcher, it was determined to be owned by an Indian marketing company named Chtrbox, which is selling services such as marketing promotions with influencers as well as sponsored ads.

Recently, the company in question responded the allegations made by tech researcher Anurag Sen from Twitter and said that they did not purposely or recklessly leaked the said data, but instead, a third party inadvertently exposed the data.

“The reports on a leak of private data are inaccurate. A particular database for limited influencers was inadvertently exposed for approximately 72 hours,” said the company’s official statement regarding the incident.

But this claim has been debunked by the original reporter of the data breach. Zack Whittaker, a journalist from TechCrunch, through his Twitter account, said that the breach had been discovered since May 14 and the claim that the breach lasted for only 72 hours is “inaccurate.”

Each record in the database contained publicly listed data scraped from influencer, celebrity, and brand Instagram accounts including their bio, profile picture, their follower count, verification status, and their location by city and country. However, the database also contained private contact information, including email address and phone number.

Several high profile influencers and celebrities were found in the database, including some prominent beauty and fashion bloggers, food bloggers, celebrities, and other famous social media influencers. According to Whittaker, he contacted several people on the list at random whose information was found in the database, and some of them indeed replied, confirming that some – or most – of the data contained in the database are actual data scraped from their Instagram accounts.

The report revealed that each record, aside from public and personal information of the account owner, also includes an estimated worth of each account, factored by the number of followers they have, the engagement level they receive, the width of their reach, likes, and shares they had. The calculation was used as a metric to determine how much to pay an influencer to post a sponsored content on their account as an ad.

However, the company also denies this claim saying that private information was not taken unethically.

“The database did not include any sensitive personal data and only contained information available from the public domain, or self-reported by influencers. We would also like to affirm that no personal data has been sourced through unethical means by Chtrbox. Our database is for internal research use only, we have never sold individual data or our database, and we have never purchased hacked data resulting from social media platform breaches. Our use of our database is limited to help our team connect with the right influencers to support influencers to monetize their online presence, and help brands create great content,” the company added.

Another tech researcher chimed in the discussion on Twitter saying that it is possible that the database entries were taken from a February 2019 Instagram breach that he previously reported. He said that not only did the exposure started from May 14th, but even since December 2018.

David Stier, a cybersecurity researcher, said that even after Instagram fixed the exposure following his report, phone numbers and email addresses of IG accounts were still visible on many accounts in the Instagram app.

Another tech researcher chimed in the discussion on Twitter saying that it is possible that the database entries were taken from a February 2019 Instagram breach that he previously reported. He said that not only did the exposure started from May 14th, but even since December 2018. David Stier, a cybersecurity researcher, said that even after Instagram fixed the exposure following his report, phone numbers and email addresses of IG accounts were still visible on many accounts in the Instagram app.

Until now, it is still unclear how Chtrbox gathered the data. The original theory was regarding the IG breach, something that the company has also denied in its statements.

Meanwhile, in a statement made by Facebook following the disclosure of the database said that the company is investigating the matter.

“We’re looking into the issue to understand if the data described – including email and phone numbers – was from Instagram or other sources,” said an updated statement. “We’re also inquiring with Chtrbox to understand where this data came from and how it became publicly available,” the social media giant said in a statement.

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