Facebook helps AI take a first-person view of life

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A long-term artificial intelligence (AI) research project led by Facebook could help answer the eternal question: “Where did I put that thing?”.

The Ego4D project aims to improve AI’s understanding of the world from an “egocentric” first-person perspective.

The hope is to improve the utility of devices such as augmented reality (AR) glasses.

For example, it could enable them to assist with tasks such as remembering where you put the keys.

In a blog post, Facebook argues that “next-generation AI will need to learn from videos that show the world from the centre of the action”.

AI that understands the world from this “egocentric perspective” could – the company says – help “immersive devices” like AR glasses and virtual reality (VR) headsets become as useful as smartphones.

Facebook has had a long-running interest in VR through its ownership of headset manufacturer Oculus.

And the company is expected to release fully-fledged AR spectacles, telling the BBC recently that they were still in development.

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Ego4D is a collaborative effort to gather a “massive-scale egocentric video dataset” to assist in the development of computer vision and AI systems that help users interact with the world from a first-person perspective.

The project brings together a consortium of 13 universities and labs across nine countries.

The dataset, researchers said, includes “3,025 hours of daily life activity video spanning hundreds of scenarios (household, outdoor, workplace, leisure, etc.) captured by 855 unique camera wearers”.

Currently computer vision algorithms are trained using large datasets of images and videos captured in a third-person perspective.

“Next-generation AI systems will need to learn from an entirely different kind of data — videos that show the world from the centre of the action, rather than the sidelines,” wrote Kristen Grauman, lead research scientist at Facebook.

The datasets, which Facebook claims are “20 times greater than any other in terms of hours of footage”, will be available to researchers who sign a data use agreement from November.

The company also developed five “benchmark challenges” for developing more useful AI assistants. These are, Facebook said:

  • What happened when? (eg: “Where did I leave my keys?”)
  • What am I likely to do next? (eg: “Wait, you’ve already added salt to this recipe”)
  • What am I doing? (eg: “Teach me how to play the drums”)
  • Who said what when? (eg: “What was the main topic during class?”)
  • Who is interacting with whom? (eg: “Help me better hear the person talking to me at this noisy restaurant”)

The idea that a company which has been heavily criticised and fined for its record on privacy wishes to develop tech with such an intimate “first-person” view of our lives will also concern some.

Its new Ray-Ban Stories camera-glasses prompted privacy questions, despite the much more limited technology.

Media caption, WATCH: Facebook reveals Ray-Ban Stories

Technology news site The Verge said it was worrying “that benchmarks in this Ego4D project do not include prominent privacy safeguards”.

Facebook told the publication such safeguards would be implemented as applications were developed.

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