Mark Zuckerberg eyes a Jarvis, tilts scales in AI favour

The global technology community appears to be in two minds about artificial intelligence (AI); Tesla’s rockstar CEO Elon Musk, as he pledged money to support a company focused on positive human impact of AI, pondered aloud the risks it could pose to humanity if mismanaged.

 Not Mark Zuckerberg, though. The Facebook founder and CEO threw his weight firmly behind AI by resolving to build an artificially intelligent assistant this year to run his home and help him at work. “You can think of it kind of like Jarvis in Iron Man,” Zuckerberg writes in a Facebook post.

AI is technology that makes a computer do more than what it is programmed for, to discover and think for itself. As reported in HT on December 20, it has begun to find adoption in India with Manipal Hospitals deciding to use IBM’s Watson to treat cancer patients.

Zuckerberg’s reference to Jarvis may be incidental. Or, maybe not. It is the AI assistant built by Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies. Tony Stark is the character to which Elon Musk is often compared for his streak of tech adventure.

The resolve to build a personal AI assistant adds to Zuckerberg’s reputation as a man who chooses to take on personal challenges. In 2010, he resolved to learn Mandarin. He decided to eat only that meat in 2011 which he had killed himself. Last year he said he would read two books every month.

The results of the first and third may be difficult to verify. But last October he did deliver a 20-minute speech in Mandarin. So these personal quests are not to be taken lightly.

Building a Jarvis-like AI assistant is more personal a quest than you might think. “I’m going to start by exploring what technology is already out there. Then I’ll start teaching it to understand my voice to control everything in our home — music, lights, temperature and so on,” writes Zuckerberg.

He will teach it to let friends in by looking at their faces when they ring the doorbell. He will teach it to let him know if anything is going on in (newborn daughter) Max’s room that he needs to check on when he is not with her.

“On the work side, it’ll help me visualize data in VR to help me build better services and lead my organisations more effectively.”

At Facebook, Zuckerberg writes, he spends a lot of time working with engineers to build new things. He gets involved in the physics of building solar-powered planes and satellites to beam down internet access, in the details of the controllers or the software Facebook designs, with Messenger, etc. “But it’s a different kind of rewarding to build things yourself, so this year my personal challenge is to do that.”

We should get to know whether he succeeds, like he did with Mandarin.

Zuckerberg’s post promises to share what he learns during the course of the year.

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