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Amazon’s Alexa can summon an Uber and satisfy a four-year-old’s demand for fart noises. But a lucky group of around 10,000 people, mostly in California, know that Facebook’s assistant, named M, is the smartest of the bunch.
The platform will run within Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence Research (FAIR) arm, working closely with other AI-infused, text-based research efforts, such as Fast Text and Comm AI.(Facebook declined to say how many of those workers it has, or to make M available to try.) That design is too expensive to scale to the 1.2 billion people who use Facebook Messenger, so Facebook offered M to a few thousand users in 2015 as a kind of semi-public R&D project.Entwining human workers and algorithms was intended to reveal how people would react to an omniscient virtual assistant, and to provide data that would let the algorithms learn to take over the work of their human “trainers.” “Everybody in this field is dreaming of creating the assistant that will finally be very, very, very smart,” says Alex Lebrun, who started the project. Now two years down that path, Facebook’s research project can justifiably be called successful.Researchers also gain “seamless” access to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a marketplace for hiring workers to complete odd jobs, meaning developers have easy access to humans who can test their chatbots.Facebook likely hopes Parl AI will spur development for more conversational, personalized chatbots and virtual assistants.
Its language-learning platform has been downloaded over 15 million times.