Artificial intelligence (AI) researchers at Facebook have spent the last year working on a project that saw an AI system learn how to navigate parts of the sprawling conurbation that is New York City. The study is designed to help computers understand natural human language, paving the way for AI assistants to communicate with people more competently.
Teaching machines to understand us is far from easy, and feeding them raw text data isn't necessarily the best way forward in the eyes of the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research (FAIR) group.
Instead, the Facebook researchers used an approach called "embodied AI", also known as "grounded language learning", which favors learning in the context of a system's surroundings, rather than training through large data sets of text, such as Wikipedia.
FAIR's "Talk the Walk" project sees a "tourist" bot navigate their way through 360-degree images of five actual New York City neighborhoods. This is done with the help of a "guide" bot, which sees nothing but a 2D map of the neighborhood. The tourist bot essentially describes what it "sees" and the guide bot responds with directions. Facebook found that its bot guide was better than human guides at giving directions.
Facebook isn't the only tech giant working on natural language understanding. Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are all pursuing similar projects in a bid to give their own AI assistants an edge.