Weekend Roundup: New Facebook A.I. Tool; Microsoft’s OpenAI Computer

You made it! As we head into the holiday weekend, let’s take a moment to review some of the interesting stories from the week, including an update on Big Tech’s COVID-19 reopening plans, a new Facebook tool that wants to put a price-tag on everything in existence, and Microsoft’s new computer for speeding up machine learning and artificial intelligence (A.I.). 

More Big Tech Re-Opening Plans

Facebook has revealed a little bit more about its plans to reopen its physical offices amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, some 25 percent of its employees will return to their offices, and they’ll need to wear facemasks. According to a new Bloomberg report, those employees will also undergo temperature checks.

Over the past few years, Facebook has grown a not-insignificant hardware arm, particularly around its Oculus line of VR devices. Its employees who focus on hardware will likely need to come back first, as much of their work is hands-on and more easily done in an office or lab environment. As with Twitter, Google, and other tech firms, there’s also a need to bring back employees who set up and maintain servers and datacenters. 

Meanwhile, other companies are still figuring out their timetables. Apple, for example, is reportedly bring back some employees in late May, although their number might be severely limited. Amazon, meanwhile, has told employees to expect to work from home until early October (according to Reuters). The situation is obviously fluid for the tech industry as a whole, and could shift depending on what happens with the broader COVID-19 pandemic.  

Microsoft’s OpenAI Supercomputer

At this year’s edition of Microsoft’s BUILD conference (which is being held virtually, due to COVID-19), Microsoft unveiled a cloud-hosted supercomputer that will be used to train increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence (A.I.) models. Microsoft collaborated with OpenAI, the sorta-nonprofit dedicated to responsible A.I. development, on the project. In theory, the supercomputer will accelerate development in A.I. areas such as computer vision and natural language processing.  

Check out a cute animated video that walks through the supercomputer’s benefits, narrated by Microsoft chief technology officer Kevin Scott: 

Microsoft claims that the supercomputer (which boasts 285,000 CPU cores, 10,000 GPUs and 400 gigabits per second of network connectivity for each GPU server) is among the top five most powerful supercomputers in the world. “We want to be able to build these very advanced A.I. technologies that ultimately can be easily used by people to help them get their work done and accomplish their goals more quickly,” Microsoft principal program manager Phil Waymouth is quoted as saying in Microsoft’s official blog posting about the matter. “These large models are going to be an enormous accelerant.”

Facebook’s New A.I. Tool

Speaking of A.I., Facebook has rolled out a new A.I. tool that automatically recognizes items that people are putting up for sale on the social network. This “image recognition system for commerce applications,” formally known as “GrokNet,” can leverage computer vision to identify a broad range of products, from shirts to sports cars, supposedly with a very high rate of accuracy.  

On its corporate blog, Facebook talked about its big plans for the technology. “Our long-term vision is to build an all-in-one A.I. lifestyle assistant that can accurately search and rank billions of products, while personalizing to individual tastes,” it read. “That same system would make online shopping just as social as shopping with friends in real life. Going one step further, it would advance visual search to make your real-world environment shoppable.” 

If you’re interested in machine learning and A.I. as a career, the post (and linked research paper) are worth reading for the lengthy breakdown of training a model. 

Have a great weekend, everyone! Keep washing those hands!