Jerome Pesenti leads the development of artificial intelligence at one of the worlds most influentialand controversialcompanies. As VP of artificial intelligence at Facebook, he oversees hundreds of scientists and engineers whose work shapes the companys direction and its impact on the wider world.
AI is fundamentally important to Facebook. Algorithms that learn to grab and hold our attention help make the platform and its sister products, Instagram and WhatsApp, stickier and more addictive. And, despite some notable AI flops, like the personal assistant M, Facebook continues to use AI to build new features and products, from Instagram filters to augmented reality apps.
Mark Zuckerberg has promised to deploy AI to help solve some of the companys biggest problems, by policing hate speech, fake news, and cyberbullying (an effort that has seen limited success so far). More recently, Facebook has been forced to reckon with how to stop AI-powered deception in the form of deepfake videos that could convincingly spread misinformation as well as enable new forms of harassment.
Pesenti joined Facebook in January 2018, inheriting a research lab created by Yann Lecun, one of the biggest names in the field. Before that, he worked on IBMs Watson AI platform and at Benevolent AI, a company that is applying the technology to medicine.
Pesenti met with Will Knight, senior writer at WIRED, near its offices in New York. The conversation has been edited for length.
Will Knight: AI has been presented as a solution to fake news and online abuse, but that may oversell its power. What progress are you really making there?
Jerome Pesenti: Moderating automatically, or even with humans and computers working together, at the scale of Facebook is a super challenging problem. But weve made a lot of progress.
Early on, the field made progress on visionunderstanding scenes and images. Weve been able to apply that in the last few years for recognizing nudity, recognizing violence, and understanding what's happening in images and videos.
Recently theres been a lot of progress in the field of language, allowing us a much more refined understanding of interactions through the language that people use. We can understand if people are trying to bully, if its hate speech, or if its just a joke. By no measure is it a solved problem, but there's clear progress being made.
WK: What about deepfakes?
JP: Were taking that very seriously. We actually went around and created new deepfake videos, so that people could test deepfake detection techniques. Its a really important challenge that we are trying to be proactive about. Its not really significant on the platform at the moment, but we know it can be very powerful. Were trying to be ahead of the game, and weve engaged the industry and the community.
JP: As a lab, our objective is to match human intelligence. We're still very, very far from that, but we think its a great objective. But I think many people in the lab, including Yann, believe that the concept of AGI is not really interesting and doesn't really mean much.
On the one hand, you have people who assume that AGI is human intelligence. But I think it's a bit disingenuous because if you really think of human intelligence, it is not very general. Then other people project onto AGI the idea of the singularitythat if you had an AGI, then you will have an intelligence that can make itself better, and keep improving. But theres no real model for that. Humans cant cant make themselves more intelligent. I think people are kind of throwing it out there to pursue a certain agenda.