How Facebook’s research lab is thinking about AI

If AI is going to shape our world, then everyone should be able to understand what it really is and how it’s changing.
By Mike Schroepfer
January 22, 2021

Artificial intelligence will be one of the most transformative technologies of the coming decade. It’s also one that people have a whole lot of questions about — it’s evolving so fast that even the engineers working on it every day are still learning. But for everyone else, much of AI remains a mystery, even though you see terms like machine learning, algorithm and neural network thrown around every day. 

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If AI is going to shape our world, everyone should be able to understand what it really is and how it’s changing. So to answer those questions, I spoke to Joelle Pineau, a professor of computer science at McGill University who also co-leads the Facebook AI Research (FAIR) lab. She’s a brilliant thinker and communicator about AI, so I asked her to take us through some of the biggest questions people have about it.

To begin with: What is Artificial intelligence? And what’s the difference between AI and machine learning? These two terms are often used interchangeably, and just knowing the relationship  between them is a great start to better understanding the field. Joelle also gets into one of the most important questions in AI today: how can people trust the decisions made by machines, or even understand them? In the first part of our conversation, Joelle took us through AI 101. 

In the second part of our conversation, we went deeper into the work being done at FAIR, which has made a string of major breakthroughs in AI research and is continuously advancing the state of the art. Something special about FAIR is that it makes its research available to the whole world, and Joelle talked about why that commitment to open science so important to Facebook and the world of scientific research. And beyond AI, Joelle had some great advice on how to manage teams in areas you are not an expert in — something so many of us can learn from.

I’ve always felt incredibly fortunate to get to learn from Joelle, and I hope you enjoy hearing from her as much as I did.