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04.25.17 | 11:18 am

Facebook now testing related articles with less fake news

Facebook says one of its big goals is to help people be more informed. That manifests both by being a place where we share (and read) countless articles on all topics, and through algorithms that suggest articles related to the ones we signal our interest in.

Today, the company said it is testing a new system that will automatically show related articles on hot topics, even before users click on an initial story. Perhaps more interesting is that, as Facebook wrote in a blog post about the experiment, it "should provide people easier access to additional perspectives and information, including articles by third-party fact-checkers." In other words, it is going to populate those related articles with ones that its systems deem not to be fake news. Will this help us actually be better informed? Stay tuned.

04.21.17 | 4:20 pm

Facebook just beat its own record for lobbying the federal government

The social networking giant has cash to spare, and it's not afraid to spread it around the Beltway if it means buying a little extra influence. According to its latest lobbying report, Facebook spent $3.21 million lobbying the federal government in the first quarter of this year. That's the first time it broke the $3 million mark in a single quarter, as Axios reports. Facebook is hardly alone. As we reported earlier this year, it's boom times for tech-industry lobbying. Uber, for instance, tripled its spending last year. 

04.19.17 | 2:32 pm

Yes, Facebook is working on technology to read your mind

For years, Mark Zuckerberg has cheerfully mused about how cool it would be if people could pump information directly from their brains to the digital world. Today at F8, Regina Dugan—the former DARPA and Google research honcho who joined Facebook a year ago to head a group called Building 8—talked about actual investigations the company is conducting in that area.

Dugan acknowledged that the prospect of Facebook getting inside users' heads may not sound like anything to root for. "We are not talking about decoding your random thoughts," she clarified. The use-case scenarios she talked about involved stuff like people with ALS being able to type at 1oo words a minute by thinking and deaf people hearing through their skin.

The technologies involved relate to concepts like quasi-ballistic photons, and are works in progress. "These things are still a few years away, and yet somehow it feels urgent to us, because we don't always have the luxury of time," said Dugan,

"If we fail," she said as she was winding up her presentation, "it's going to suck."

04.19.17 | 1:51 pm

What’s going on in that video? Facebook wants to know

At Facebook's day-two F8 keynote, Joaquin Quiñonero Candela, one of the company's AI honchos, just provided an update on the technologies the company is developing to analyze video. The company is able not just to identify multiple people in a clip but also what they're doing: sitting, standing, walking, waving.

It's also working hard to push AI onto the phone rather than relying on servers in the cloud. One project involves analyzing 2D video—most phones only have one lens on each side—and extrapolating 3D space from a flat image. That's useful for effects such as real-time video selfies that make you look crisp but pleasantly blur the background

04.19.17 | 1:28 pm

New Facebook VR cameras shoot professional-quality 360 3D video

At Facebook's F8 developers conference today, the company unveiled its new x24 and x6 VR cameras, each able to shoot in six-degrees-of-freedom, meaning they'll be able to capture fully immersive video that lets viewers move their head forward or backward or left or right, even though the camera itself didn't move.

You can read all about the camera, and the collaboration between the team that designed it at Facebook's Area 404 hardware lab here.

04.19.17 | 1:19 pm

For Facebook AI, machine vision is just the beginning

Yesterday, at Facebook's day-one F8 keynote, CTO Mike Schroepfer talked about the company's progress in teaching computers to recognize elements in still images and videos. At the day-two keynote today, he returned to the topic of AI—but emphasized that machine vision is only one aspect.

Schroepfer divided AI into four challenges: perception, understanding and learning, prediction, and planning. He spoke of work Facebook is doing to auto-compose photo captions for the vision impaired, such as labeling a photo of a soccer goalie with "image may contain one or more people playing sports outdoors."

But then he emphasized how much computers don't yet understand by flashing a photo of a pepperoni pizza on-screen and asking the audience whether it was a vegetarian pizza. For humans, that's an easy question, because we know what pepperoni and vegetarianism are. But "computers are confounded by these questions because they don't understand the world around us," Schroepfer said. 

04.18.17 | 8:10 pm

Facebook’s AR Studio would like to be the Photoshop of augmented reality

From Mark Zuckerberg's stage-setting vision statement to specific product announcements, a big part of Facebook's day one F8 keynote was about establishing itself as a platform for augmented-reality experiences that people can explore on their phones. And a big part of that is AR Studio, a new MacOS application for creating interactive, entertaining AR effects of the sort that started out as a signature Snapchat feature but are rapidly showing up all over.

Facebook engineering director Ficus Kirkpatrick told me that the company's goal is not to create scads of these effects itself but rather to provide a platform for many others to do so at vast scale. With AR Studio, he says, "Simple things are easy to do, and hard things are possible to do," making the software appealing both to artists and technical types. He adds that it has rich potential to add capabilities in the years to come: "I say to the team a lot, 'Photoshop is 30 years old. AR Studio came out today.'"

04.18.17 | 2:20 pm

Built-in Spotify and Apple Music makes Facebook Messenger more musical

One of Facebook Messenger's major pieces of news here at the F8 conference is Chat Extensions, a feature that lets third-party apps enable bits of their functionality inside a Messenger conversation. Messenger VP David Marcus just announced that Spotify will be a flagship example, by letting you embed playable songs and playlists inside a chat. And Apple Music will soon join it with a similar feature.

04.18.17 | 2:15 pm

The Facebook Messenger platform, one year later

Here at F8, Facebook Messenger honcho David Marcus began his presentation by acknowledging that last year's big Messenger news, the introduction of AI-powered bots, was greeted with lots of skepticism. But he also shared some stats on the platform's progress:

• Businesses now send two billion Messenger messages a month, including both automated ones and ones where a human is involved.

• There are now 100,000 bots on the platform, up from 33,000 in September.

• The Messenger platform has 100,000 developers.

04.18.17 | 1:56 pm

Facebook Messenger wants to be your Yellow Pages

At last year's F8 conference, Facebook made it official: Its Messenger app was a platform unto itself, complete with unique features such as conversational bots.

This year, the company is expanding on that vision for Messenger, and much of what it's announcing involves new features designed to encourage consumers and businesses to talk to each other on the service. Here's my look at what's new.

04.18.17 | 1:50 pm

Facebook’s first social VR app blends real, virtual worlds

Today at its F8 developers conference, Facebook said it has launched its social VR platform into beta for Oculus Rift users. It allows users to share virtual spaces together, create virtual objects that can be swapped around between users, and even do live video chatting between people on Messenger and in VR.

Read our full story on Facebook social VR here.

04.18.17 | 1:38 pm

Facebook is getting really, really smart at understanding images

Here at Facebook's F8 conference, Mike Schroepfer, the company's CTO, is presiding over a segment devoted to its recent advances in AI. After recapping past progress in understanding still images and video, he talked about a new Facebook technology called Mask R-CNN that is super-smart at figuring out what's happening in imagery.

Mask R-CNN can tell with a high degree of confidence that a photo of a kitchen includes a person, a bowl, a cup, a wineglass, and a dog. In video, it can detect moving objects–opening up applications such as erasing a sailboat from a water scene.

"Our teams have gotten really good at rapidly taking state of the art technology and putting it in your pocket, on your smartphone," Schroepfer said.

Figuring out what's going on in the real world also comes into play in Facebook's Oculus VR efforts, he added. The company is using four cameras to simultaneously track the movements of a headset-wearing user in a physical space. That's one of the most demanding applications, Schroepfer said, because if there's even a little bit of lag it destroys VR's immersive effect.

Object recognition is also critical for helping Facebook cope with the problem of livestreamed violence or pornOn Monday, the company said it was reviewing its procedures for moderation after a Facebook Live video of a deadly shooting spread across social media.