Lex Fridman Podcast - #36 - Yann LeCun: Deep Learning, Convolutional Neural Networks, and Self-Supervised Learning

The following is a conversation with Yann LeCun.

He’s considered to be one of the fathers of deep learning,

which, if you’ve been hiding under a rock,

is the recent revolution in AI that has captivated the world

with the possibility of what machines can learn from data.

He’s a professor at New York University,

a vice president and chief AI scientist at Facebook,

and co recipient of the Turing Award

for his work on deep learning.

He’s probably best known as the founding father

of convolutional neural networks,

in particular their application

to optical character recognition

and the famed MNIST dataset.

He is also an outspoken personality,

unafraid to speak his mind in a distinctive French accent

and explore provocative ideas,

both in the rigorous medium of academic research

and the somewhat less rigorous medium

of Twitter and Facebook.

This is the Artificial Intelligence Podcast.

If you enjoy it, subscribe on YouTube,

give it five stars on iTunes, support it on Patreon,

or simply connect with me on Twitter at Lex Friedman,

spelled F R I D M A N.

And now, here’s my conversation with Yann LeCun.

You said that 2001 Space Odyssey

is one of your favorite movies.

Hal 9000 decides to get rid of the astronauts

for people who haven’t seen the movie, spoiler alert,

because he, it, she believes that the astronauts,

they will interfere with the mission.

Do you see Hal as flawed in some fundamental way

or even evil, or did he do the right thing?


There’s no notion of evil in that context,

other than the fact that people die,

but it was an example of what people call

value misalignment, right?

You give an objective to a machine,

and the machine strives to achieve this objective.

And if you don’t put any constraints on this objective,

like don’t kill people and don’t do things like this,

the machine, given the power, will do stupid things

just to achieve this objective,

or damaging things to achieve this objective.

It’s a little bit like, I mean, we’re used to this

in the context of human society.

We put in place laws to prevent people

from doing bad things, because spontaneously,

they would do those bad things, right?

So we have to shape their cost function,

their objective function, if you want,

through laws to kind of correct,

and education, obviously, to sort of correct for those.

So maybe just pushing a little further on that point,

how, you know, there’s a mission,

there’s this fuzziness around,

the ambiguity around what the actual mission is,

but, you know, do you think that there will be a time,

from a utilitarian perspective,

where an AI system, where it is not misalignment,

where it is alignment, for the greater good of society,

that an AI system will make decisions that are difficult?

Well, that’s the trick.

I mean, eventually we’ll have to figure out how to do this.

And again, we’re not starting from scratch,

because we’ve been doing this with humans for millennia.

So designing objective functions for people

is something that we know how to do.

And we don’t do it by, you know, programming things,

although the legal code is called code.

So that tells you something.

And it’s actually the design of an objective function.

That’s really what legal code is, right?

It tells you, here is what you can do,

here is what you can’t do.

If you do it, you pay that much,

that’s an objective function.

So there is this idea somehow that it’s a new thing

for people to try to design objective functions

that are aligned with the common good.

But no, we’ve been writing laws for millennia

and that’s exactly what it is.

So that’s where, you know, the science of lawmaking

and computer science will.

Come together.

Will come together.

So there’s nothing special about HAL or AI systems,

it’s just the continuation of tools used

to make some of these difficult ethical judgments

that laws make.

Yeah, and we have systems like this already

that make many decisions for ourselves in society

that need to be designed in a way that they,

like rules about things that sometimes have bad side effects

and we have to be flexible enough about those rules

so that they can be broken when it’s obvious

that they shouldn’t be applied.

So you don’t see this on the camera here,

but all the decoration in this room

is all pictures from 2001 and Space Odyssey.

Wow, is that by accident or is there a lot?

No, by accident, it’s by design.

Oh, wow.

So if you were to build HAL 10,000,

so an improvement of HAL 9,000, what would you improve?

Well, first of all, I wouldn’t ask it to hold secrets

and tell lies because that’s really what breaks it

in the end, that’s the fact that it’s asking itself

questions about the purpose of the mission

and it’s, you know, pieces things together that it’s heard,

you know, all the secrecy of the preparation of the mission

and the fact that it was the discovery

on the lunar surface that really was kept secret

and one part of HAL’s memory knows this

and the other part does not know it

and is supposed to not tell anyone

and that creates internal conflict.

So you think there’s never should be a set of things

that an AI system should not be allowed,

like a set of facts that should not be shared

with the human operators?

Well, I think, no, I think it should be a bit like

in the design of autonomous AI systems,

there should be the equivalent of, you know,

the oath that a hypocrite oath

that doctors sign up to, right?

So there’s certain things, certain rules

that you have to abide by and we can sort of hardwire this

into our machines to kind of make sure they don’t go.

So I’m not, you know, an advocate of the three laws

of robotics, you know, the Asimov kind of thing

because I don’t think it’s practical,

but, you know, some level of limits.

But to be clear, these are not questions

that are kind of really worth asking today

because we just don’t have the technology to do this.

We don’t have autonomous intelligent machines,

we have intelligent machines.

Some are intelligent machines that are very specialized,

but they don’t really sort of satisfy an objective.

They’re just, you know, kind of trained to do one thing.

So until we have some idea for design

of a full fledged autonomous intelligent system,

asking the question of how we design this objective,

I think is a little too abstract.

It’s a little too abstract.

There’s useful elements to it in that it helps us understand

our own ethical codes, humans.

So even just as a thought experiment,

if you imagine that an AGI system is here today,

how would we program it is a kind of nice thought experiment

of constructing how should we have a law,

have a system of laws for us humans.

It’s just a nice practical tool.

And I think there’s echoes of that idea too

in the AI systems we have today

that don’t have to be that intelligent.


Like autonomous vehicles.

These things start creeping in that are worth thinking about,

but certainly they shouldn’t be framed as how.


Looking back, what is the most,

I’m sorry if it’s a silly question,

but what is the most beautiful

or surprising idea in deep learning

or AI in general that you’ve ever come across?

Sort of personally, when you said back

and just had this kind of,

oh, that’s pretty cool moment.

That’s nice.

That’s surprising.

I don’t know if it’s an idea

rather than a sort of empirical fact.

The fact that you can build gigantic neural nets,

train them on relatively small amounts of data relatively

with stochastic gradient descent

and that it actually works,

breaks everything you read in every textbook, right?

Every pre deep learning textbook that told you,

you need to have fewer parameters

and you have data samples.

If you have a non convex objective function,

you have no guarantee of convergence.

All those things that you read in textbook

and they tell you to stay away from this

and they’re all wrong.

The huge number of parameters, non convex,

and somehow which is very relative

to the number of parameters data,

it’s able to learn anything.


Does that still surprise you today?

Well, it was kind of obvious to me

before I knew anything that this is a good idea.

And then it became surprising that it worked

because I started reading those textbooks.


So can you talk through the intuition

of why it was obvious to you if you remember?

Well, okay.

So the intuition was it’s sort of like,

those people in the late 19th century

who proved that heavier than air flight was impossible.

And of course you have birds, right?

They do fly.

And so on the face of it,

it’s obviously wrong as an empirical question, right?

And so we have the same kind of thing

that we know that the brain works.

We don’t know how, but we know it works.

And we know it’s a large network of neurons and interaction

and that learning takes place by changing the connection.

So kind of getting this level of inspiration

without copying the details,

but sort of trying to derive basic principles,

and that kind of gives you a clue

as to which direction to go.

There’s also the idea somehow that I’ve been convinced of

since I was an undergrad that, even before,

that intelligence is inseparable from learning.

So the idea somehow that you can create

an intelligent machine by basically programming,

for me it was a non starter from the start.

Every intelligent entity that we know about

arrives at this intelligence through learning.

So machine learning was a completely obvious path.

Also because I’m lazy, so, you know, kind of.

He’s automate basically everything

and learning is the automation of intelligence.

So do you think, so what is learning then?

What falls under learning?

Because do you think of reasoning as learning?

Well, reasoning is certainly a consequence

of learning as well, just like other functions of the brain.

The big question about reasoning is,

how do you make reasoning compatible

with gradient based learning?

Do you think neural networks can be made to reason?

Yes, there is no question about that.

Again, we have a good example, right?

The question is how?

So the question is how much prior structure

do you have to put in the neural net

so that something like human reasoning

will emerge from it, you know, from learning?

Another question is all of our kind of model

of what reasoning is that are based on logic

are discrete and are therefore incompatible

with gradient based learning.

And I’m a very strong believer

in this idea of gradient based learning.

I don’t believe that other types of learning

that don’t use kind of gradient information if you want.

So you don’t like discrete mathematics?

You don’t like anything discrete?

Well, that’s, it’s not that I don’t like it,

it’s just that it’s incompatible with learning

and I’m a big fan of learning, right?

So in fact, that’s perhaps one reason

why deep learning has been kind of looked at

with suspicion by a lot of computer scientists

because the math is very different.

The math that you use for deep learning,

you know, it kind of has more to do with,

you know, cybernetics, the kind of math you do

in electrical engineering than the kind of math

you do in computer science.

And, you know, nothing in machine learning is exact, right?

Computer science is all about sort of, you know,

obviously compulsive attention to details of like,

you know, every index has to be right.

And you can prove that an algorithm is correct, right?

Machine learning is the science of sloppiness, really.

That’s beautiful.

So, okay, maybe let’s feel around in the dark

of what is a neural network that reasons

or a system that works with continuous functions

that’s able to do, build knowledge,

however we think about reasoning,

build on previous knowledge, build on extra knowledge,

create new knowledge,

generalize outside of any training set to ever build.

What does that look like?

If, yeah, maybe give inklings of thoughts

of what that might look like.

Yeah, I mean, yes and no.

If I had precise ideas about this,

I think, you know, we’d be building it right now.

And there are people working on this

whose main research interest is actually exactly that, right?

So what you need to have is a working memory.

So you need to have some device, if you want,

some subsystem that can store a relatively large number

of factual episodic information for, you know,

a reasonable amount of time.

So, you know, in the brain, for example,

there are kind of three main types of memory.

One is the sort of memory of the state of your cortex.

And that sort of disappears within 20 seconds.

You can’t remember things for more than about 20 seconds

or a minute if you don’t have any other form of memory.

The second type of memory, which is longer term,

is still short term, is the hippocampus.

So you can, you know, you came into this building,

you remember where the exit is, where the elevators are.

You have some map of that building

that’s stored in your hippocampus.

You might remember something about what I said,

you know, a few minutes ago.

I forgot it all already.

Of course, it’s been erased, but, you know,

but that would be in your hippocampus.

And then the longer term memory is in the synapse,

the synapses, right?

So what you need if you want a system

that’s capable of reasoning

is that you want the hippocampus like thing, right?

And that’s what people have tried to do

with memory networks and, you know,

neural training machines and stuff like that, right?

And now with transformers,

which have sort of a memory in there,

kind of self attention system.

You can think of it this way.

So that’s one element you need.

Another thing you need is some sort of network

that can access this memory,

get an information back and then kind of crunch on it

and then do this iteratively multiple times

because a chain of reasoning is a process

by which you update your knowledge

about the state of the world,

about, you know, what’s going to happen, et cetera.

And that has to be this sort of

recurrent operation basically.

And you think that kind of,

if we think about a transformer,

so that seems to be too small

to contain the knowledge that’s,

to represent the knowledge

that’s contained in Wikipedia, for example.

Well, a transformer doesn’t have this idea of recurrence.

It’s got a fixed number of layers

and that’s the number of steps that, you know,

limits basically its representation.

But recurrence would build on the knowledge somehow.

I mean, it would evolve the knowledge

and expand the amount of information perhaps

or useful information within that knowledge.

But is this something that just can emerge with size?

Because it seems like everything we have now is too small.

Not just, no, it’s not clear.

I mean, how you access and write

into an associative memory in an efficient way.

I mean, sort of the original memory network

maybe had something like the right architecture,

but if you try to scale up a memory network

so that the memory contains all the Wikipedia,

it doesn’t quite work.


So there’s a need for new ideas there, okay.

But it’s not the only form of reasoning.

So there’s another form of reasoning,

which is true, which is very classical also

in some types of AI.

And it’s based on, let’s call it energy minimization.

Okay, so you have some sort of objective,

some energy function that represents

the quality or the negative quality, okay.

Energy goes up when things get bad

and they get low when things get good.

So let’s say you want to figure out,

what gestures do I need to do

to grab an object or walk out the door.

If you have a good model of your own body,

a good model of the environment,

using this kind of energy minimization,

you can do planning.

And in optimal control,

it’s called model predictive control.

You have a model of what’s gonna happen in the world

as a consequence of your actions.

And that allows you to, by energy minimization,

figure out the sequence of action

that optimizes a particular objective function,

which measures, minimizes the number of times

you’re gonna hit something

and the energy you’re gonna spend

doing the gesture and et cetera.

So that’s a form of reasoning.

Planning is a form of reasoning.

And perhaps what led to the ability of humans to reason

is the fact that, or species that appear before us

had to do some sort of planning

to be able to hunt and survive

and survive the winter in particular.

And so it’s the same capacity that you need to have.

So in your intuition is,

if we look at expert systems

and encoding knowledge as logic systems,

as graphs, in this kind of way,

is not a useful way to think about knowledge?

Graphs are a little brittle or logic representation.

So basically, variables that have values

and then constraint between them

that are represented by rules,

is a little too rigid and too brittle, right?

So some of the early efforts in that respect

were to put probabilities on them.

So a rule, if you have this and that symptom,

you have this disease with that probability

and you should prescribe that antibiotic

with that probability, right?

That’s the mycin system from the 70s.

And that’s what that branch of AI led to,

based on networks and graphical models

and causal inference and variational method.

So there is certainly a lot of interesting

work going on in this area.

The main issue with this is knowledge acquisition.

How do you reduce a bunch of data to a graph of this type?

Yeah, it relies on the expert, on the human being,

to encode, to add knowledge.

And that’s essentially impractical.

Yeah, it’s not scalable.

That’s a big question.

The second question is,

do you want to represent knowledge as symbols

and do you want to manipulate them with logic?

And again, that’s incompatible with learning.

So one suggestion, which Jeff Hinton

has been advocating for many decades,

is replace symbols by vectors.

Think of it as pattern of activities

in a bunch of neurons or units

or whatever you want to call them.

And replace logic by continuous functions.

Okay, and that becomes now compatible.

There’s a very good set of ideas

by, written in a paper about 10 years ago

by Leon Boutout, who is here at Facebook.

The title of the paper is,

From Machine Learning to Machine Reasoning.

And his idea is that a learning system

should be able to manipulate objects

that are in a space

and then put the result back in the same space.

So it’s this idea of working memory, basically.

And it’s very enlightening.

And in a sense, that might learn something

like the simple expert systems.

I mean, you can learn basic logic operations there.

Yeah, quite possibly.

There’s a big debate on sort of how much prior structure

you have to put in for this kind of stuff to emerge.

That’s the debate I have with Gary Marcus

and people like that.

Yeah, yeah, so, and the other person,

so I just talked to Judea Pearl,

from the you mentioned causal inference world.

So his worry is that the current neural networks

are not able to learn what causes

what causal inference between things.

So I think he’s right and wrong about this.

If he’s talking about the sort of classic

type of neural nets,

people sort of didn’t worry too much about this.

But there’s a lot of people now working on causal inference.

And there’s a paper that just came out last week

by Leon Boutou, among others,

David Lopez, Baz, and a bunch of other people,

exactly on that problem of how do you kind of

get a neural net to sort of pay attention

to real causal relationships,

which may also solve issues of bias in data

and things like this, so.

I’d like to read that paper

because that ultimately the challenges

also seems to fall back on the human expert

to ultimately decide causality between things.

People are not very good

at establishing causality, first of all.

So first of all, you talk to physicists

and physicists actually don’t believe in causality

because look at all the basic laws of microphysics

are time reversible, so there’s no causality.

The arrow of time is not real, yeah.

It’s as soon as you start looking at macroscopic systems

where there is unpredictable randomness,

where there is clearly an arrow of time,

but it’s a big mystery in physics, actually,

how that emerges.

Is it emergent or is it part of

the fundamental fabric of reality?

Or is it a bias of intelligent systems

that because of the second law of thermodynamics,

we perceive a particular arrow of time,

but in fact, it’s kind of arbitrary, right?

So yeah, physicists, mathematicians,

they don’t care about, I mean,

the math doesn’t care about the flow of time.

Well, certainly, macrophysics doesn’t.

People themselves are not very good

at establishing causal relationships.

If you ask, I think it was in one of Seymour Papert’s book

on children learning.

He studied with Jean Piaget.

He’s the guy who coauthored the book Perceptron

with Marvin Minsky that kind of killed

the first wave of neural nets,

but he was actually a learning person.

He, in the sense of studying learning in humans

and machines, that’s why he got interested in Perceptron.

And he wrote that if you ask a little kid

about what is the cause of the wind,

a lot of kids will say, they will think for a while

and they’ll say, oh, it’s the branches in the trees,

they move and that creates wind, right?

So they get the causal relationship backwards.

And it’s because their understanding of the world

and intuitive physics is not that great, right?

I mean, these are like, you know, four or five year old kids.

You know, it gets better,

and then you understand that this, it can be, right?

But there are many things which we can,

because of our common sense understanding of things,

what people call common sense,

and our understanding of physics,

we can, there’s a lot of stuff

that we can figure out causality.

Even with diseases, we can figure out

what’s not causing what, often.

There’s a lot of mystery, of course,

but the idea is that you should be able

to encode that into systems,

because it seems unlikely they’d be able

to figure that out themselves.

Well, whenever we can do intervention,

but you know, all of humanity has been completely deluded

for millennia, probably since its existence,

about a very, very wrong causal relationship,

where whatever you can explain, you attribute it to,

you know, some deity, some divinity, right?

And that’s a cop out, that’s a way of saying like,

I don’t know the cause, so you know, God did it, right?

So you mentioned Marvin Minsky,

and the irony of, you know,

maybe causing the first AI winter.

You were there in the 90s, you were there in the 80s,

of course.

In the 90s, why do you think people lost faith

in deep learning, in the 90s, and found it again,

a decade later, over a decade later?

Yeah, it wasn’t called deep learning yet,

it was just called neural nets, but yeah,

they lost interest.

I mean, I think I would put that around 1995,

at least the machine learning community,

there was always a neural net community,

but it became kind of disconnected

from sort of mainstream machine learning, if you want.

There were, it was basically electrical engineering

that kept at it, and computer science gave up on neural nets.

I don’t know, you know, I was too close to it

to really sort of analyze it with sort of an unbiased eye,

if you want, but I would make a few guesses.

So the first one is, at the time, neural nets were,

it was very hard to make them work,

in the sense that you would implement backprop

in your favorite language, and that favorite language

was not Python, it was not MATLAB,

it was not any of those things,

because they didn’t exist, right?

You had to write it in Fortran OC,

or something like this, right?

So you would experiment with it,

you would probably make some very basic mistakes,

like, you know, badly initialize your weights,

make the network too small,

because you read in the textbook, you know,

you don’t want too many parameters, right?

And of course, you know, and you would train on XOR,

because you didn’t have any other data set to trade on.

And of course, you know, it works half the time.

So you would say, I give up.

Also, you would train it with batch gradient,

which, you know, isn’t that sufficient.

So there’s a lot of, there’s a bag of tricks

that you had to know to make those things work,

or you had to reinvent, and a lot of people just didn’t,

and they just couldn’t make it work.

So that’s one thing.

The investment in software platform

to be able to kind of, you know, display things,

figure out why things don’t work,

kind of get a good intuition for how to get them to work,

have enough flexibility so you can create, you know,

network architectures like convolutional nets

and stuff like that.

It was hard.

I mean, you had to write everything from scratch.

And again, you didn’t have any Python

or MATLAB or anything, right?

I read that, sorry to interrupt,

but I read that you wrote in Lisp

the first versions of Lanet with convolutional networks,

which by the way, one of my favorite languages.

That’s how I knew you were legit.

Turing award, whatever.

You programmed in Lisp, that’s…

It’s still my favorite language,

but it’s not that we programmed in Lisp,

it’s that we had to write our Lisp interpreter, okay?

Because it’s not like we used one that existed.

So we wrote a Lisp interpreter that we hooked up to,

you know, a backend library that we wrote also

for sort of neural net computation.

And then after a few years around 1991,

we invented this idea of basically having modules

that know how to forward propagate

and back propagate gradients,

and then interconnecting those modules in a graph.

Number two had made proposals on this,

about this in the late eighties,

and we were able to implement this using our Lisp system.

Eventually we wanted to use that system

to build production code for character recognition

at Bell Labs.

So we actually wrote a compiler for that Lisp interpreter

so that Patricia Simard, who is now at Microsoft,

kind of did the bulk of it with Leon and me.

And so we could write our system in Lisp

and then compile to C,

and then we’ll have a self contained complete system

that could kind of do the entire thing.

Neither PyTorch nor TensorFlow can do this today.

Yeah, okay, it’s coming.


I mean, there’s something like that in PyTorch

called TorchScript.

And so, you know, we had to write our Lisp interpreter,

we had to write our Lisp compiler,

we had to invest a huge amount of effort to do this.

And not everybody,

if you don’t completely believe in the concept,

you’re not going to invest the time to do this.

Now at the time also, you know,

or today, this would turn into Torch or PyTorch

or TensorFlow or whatever,

we’d put it in open source, everybody would use it

and, you know, realize it’s good.

Back before 1995, working at AT&T,

there’s no way the lawyers would let you

release anything in open source of this nature.

And so we could not distribute our code really.

And on that point,

and sorry to go on a million tangents,

but on that point, I also read that there was some,

almost like a patent on convolutional neural networks

at Bell Labs.

So that, first of all, I mean, just.

There’s two actually.

That ran out.

Thankfully, in 2007.

In 2007.

So I’m gonna, what,

can we just talk about that for a second?

I know you’re a Facebook, but you’re also at NYU.

And what does it mean to patent ideas

like these software ideas, essentially?

Or what are mathematical ideas?

Or what are they?

Okay, so they’re not mathematical ideas.

They are, you know, algorithms.

And there was a period where the US Patent Office

would allow the patent of software

as long as it was embodied.

The Europeans are very different.

They don’t quite accept that.

They have a different concept.

But, you know, I don’t, I no longer,

I mean, I never actually strongly believed in this,

but I don’t believe in this kind of patent.

Facebook basically doesn’t believe in this kind of patent.

Google fires patents because they’ve been burned with Apple.

And so now they do this for defensive purpose,

but usually they say,

we’re not gonna sue you if you infringe.

Facebook has a similar policy.

They say, you know, we fire patents on certain things

for defensive purpose.

We’re not gonna sue you if you infringe,

unless you sue us.

So the industry does not believe in patents.

They are there because of, you know,

the legal landscape and various things.

But I don’t really believe in patents

for this kind of stuff.

So that’s a great thing.

So I…

I’ll tell you a worse story, actually.

So what happens was the first patent about convolutional net

was about kind of the early version of convolutional net

that didn’t have separate pooling layers.

It had convolutional layers

which tried more than one, if you want, right?

And then there was a second one on convolutional nets

with separate pooling layers, trained with backprop.

And there were files filed in 89 and 1990

or something like this.

At the time, the life of a patent was 17 years.

So here’s what happened over the next few years

is that we started developing character recognition

technology around convolutional nets.

And in 1994,

a check reading system was deployed in ATM machines.

In 1995, it was for large check reading machines

in back offices, et cetera.

And those systems were developed by an engineering group

that we were collaborating with at AT&T.

And they were commercialized by NCR,

which at the time was a subsidiary of AT&T.

Now AT&T split up in 1996,

early 1996.

And the lawyers just looked at all the patents

and they distributed the patents among the various companies.

They gave the convolutional net patent to NCR

because they were actually selling products that used it.

But nobody at NCR had any idea what a convolutional net was.



So between 1996 and 2007,

so there’s a whole period until 2002

where I didn’t actually work on machine learning

or convolutional net.

I resumed working on this around 2002.

And between 2002 and 2007,

I was working on them, crossing my finger

that nobody at NCR would notice.

Nobody noticed.

Yeah, and I hope that this kind of somewhat,

as you said, lawyers aside,

relative openness of the community now will continue.

It accelerates the entire progress of the industry.

And the problems that Facebook and Google

and others are facing today

is not whether Facebook or Google or Microsoft or IBM

or whoever is ahead of the other.

It’s that we don’t have the technology

to build the things we want to build.

We want to build intelligent virtual assistants

that have common sense.

We don’t have monopoly on good ideas for this.

We don’t believe we do.

Maybe others believe they do, but we don’t.


If a startup tells you they have the secret

to human level intelligence and common sense,

don’t believe them, they don’t.

And it’s gonna take the entire work

of the world research community for a while

to get to the point where you can go off

and each of those companies

kind of start to build things on this.

We’re not there yet.

It’s absolutely, and this calls to the gap

between the space of ideas

and the rigorous testing of those ideas

of practical application that you often speak to.

You’ve written advice saying don’t get fooled

by people who claim to have a solution

to artificial general intelligence,

who claim to have an AI system

that works just like the human brain

or who claim to have figured out how the brain works.

Ask them what the error rate they get

on MNIST or ImageNet.

So this is a little dated by the way.

2000, I mean five years, who’s counting?

Okay, but I think your opinion is still,

MNIST and ImageNet, yes, may be dated,

there may be new benchmarks, right?

But I think that philosophy is one you still

in somewhat hold, that benchmarks

and the practical testing, the practical application

is where you really get to test the ideas.

Well, it may not be completely practical.

Like for example, it could be a toy data set,

but it has to be some sort of task

that the community as a whole has accepted

as some sort of standard kind of benchmark if you want.

It doesn’t need to be real.

So for example, many years ago here at FAIR,

people, Jason West and Antoine Borne

and a few others proposed the Babi tasks,

which were kind of a toy problem to test

the ability of machines to reason actually

to access working memory and things like this.

And it was very useful even though it wasn’t a real task.

MNIST is kind of halfway real task.

So toy problems can be very useful.

It’s just that I was really struck by the fact

that a lot of people, particularly a lot of people

with money to invest would be fooled by people telling them,

oh, we have the algorithm of the cortex

and you should give us 50 million.

Yes, absolutely.

So there’s a lot of people who try to take advantage

of the hype for business reasons and so on.

But let me sort of talk to this idea

that sort of new ideas, the ideas that push the field

forward may not yet have a benchmark

or it may be very difficult to establish a benchmark.

I agree.

That’s part of the process.

Establishing benchmarks is part of the process.

So what are your thoughts about,

so we have these benchmarks on around stuff we can do

with images from classification to captioning

to just every kind of information you can pull off

from images and the surface level.

There’s audio data sets, there’s some video.

What can we start, natural language, what kind of stuff,

what kind of benchmarks do you see that start creeping

on to more something like intelligence, like reasoning,

like maybe you don’t like the term,

but AGI echoes of that kind of formulation.

A lot of people are working on interactive environments

in which you can train and test intelligence systems.

So there, for example, it’s the classical paradigm

of supervised learning is that you have a data set,

you partition it into a training set, validation set,

test set, and there’s a clear protocol, right?

But what if that assumes that the samples

are statistically independent, you can exchange them,

the order in which you see them shouldn’t matter,

things like that.

But what if the answer you give determines

the next sample you see, which is the case, for example,

in robotics, right?

You robot does something and then it gets exposed

to a new room, and depending on where it goes,

the room would be different.

So that creates the exploration problem.

The what if the samples, so that creates also a dependency

between samples, right?

You, if you move, if you can only move in space,

the next sample you’re gonna see is gonna be probably

in the same building, most likely, right?

So all the assumptions about the validity

of this training set, test set hypothesis break.

Whenever a machine can take an action

that has an influence in the world,

and it’s what it’s gonna see.

So people are setting up artificial environments

where that takes place, right?

The robot runs around a 3D model of a house

and can interact with objects and things like this.

So you do robotics based simulation,

you have those opening a gym type thing

or Mujoko kind of simulated robots

and you have games, things like that.

So that’s where the field is going really,

this kind of environment.

Now, back to the question of AGI.

I don’t like the term AGI because it implies

that human intelligence is general

and human intelligence is nothing like general.

It’s very, very specialized.

We think it’s general.

We’d like to think of ourselves

as having general intelligence.

We don’t, we’re very specialized.

We’re only slightly more general than.

Why does it feel general?

So you kind of, the term general.

I think what’s impressive about humans is ability to learn,

as we were talking about learning,

to learn in just so many different domains.

It’s perhaps not arbitrarily general,

but just you can learn in many domains

and integrate that knowledge somehow.


The knowledge persists.

So let me take a very specific example.


It’s not an example.

It’s more like a quasi mathematical demonstration.

So you have about 1 million fibers

coming out of one of your eyes.

Okay, 2 million total,

but let’s talk about just one of them.

It’s 1 million nerve fibers, your optical nerve.

Let’s imagine that they are binary.

So they can be active or inactive, right?

So the input to your visual cortex is 1 million bits.

Mm hmm.

Now they’re connected to your brain in a particular way,

and your brain has connections

that are kind of a little bit like a convolutional net,

they’re kind of local, you know, in space

and things like this.

Now, imagine I play a trick on you.

It’s a pretty nasty trick, I admit.

I cut your optical nerve,

and I put a device that makes a random perturbation

of a permutation of all the nerve fibers.

So now what comes to your brain

is a fixed but random permutation of all the pixels.

There’s no way in hell that your visual cortex,

even if I do this to you in infancy,

will actually learn vision

to the same level of quality that you can.

Got it, and you’re saying there’s no way you’ve learned that?

No, because now two pixels that are nearby in the world

will end up in very different places in your visual cortex,

and your neurons there have no connections with each other

because they’re only connected locally.

So this whole, our entire, the hardware is built

in many ways to support?

The locality of the real world.

Yes, that’s specialization.

Yeah, but it’s still pretty damn impressive,

so it’s not perfect generalization, it’s not even close.

No, no, it’s not that it’s not even close, it’s not at all.

Yeah, it’s not, it’s specialized, yeah.

So how many Boolean functions?

So let’s imagine you want to train your visual system

to recognize particular patterns of those one million bits.

Okay, so that’s a Boolean function, right?

Either the pattern is here or not here,

this is a two way classification

with one million binary inputs.

How many such Boolean functions are there?

Okay, you have two to the one million

combinations of inputs,

for each of those you have an output bit,

and so you have two to the one million

Boolean functions of this type, okay?

Which is an unimaginably large number.

How many of those functions can actually be computed

by your visual cortex?

And the answer is a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny sliver.

Like an enormously tiny sliver.

Yeah, yeah.

So we are ridiculously specialized.


But, okay, that’s an argument against the word general.

I think there’s a, I agree with your intuition,

but I’m not sure it’s, it seems the brain is impressively

capable of adjusting to things, so.

It’s because we can’t imagine tasks

that are outside of our comprehension, right?

So we think we’re general because we’re general

of all the things that we can apprehend.

But there is a huge world out there

of things that we have no idea.

We call that heat, by the way.


So, at least physicists call that heat,

or they call it entropy, which is kind of.

You have a thing full of gas, right?

Closed system for gas.


Closed or not closed.

It has pressure, it has temperature, it has, you know,

and you can write equations, PV equal N on T,

you know, things like that, right?

When you reduce the volume, the temperature goes up,

the pressure goes up, you know, things like that, right?

For perfect gas, at least.

Those are the things you can know about that system.

And it’s a tiny, tiny number of bits

compared to the complete information

of the state of the entire system.

Because the state of the entire system

will give you the position of momentum

of every molecule of the gas.

And what you don’t know about it is the entropy,

and you interpret it as heat.

The energy contained in that thing is what we call heat.

Now, it’s very possible that, in fact,

there is some very strong structure

in how those molecules are moving.

It’s just that they are in a way

that we are just not wired to perceive.

Yeah, we’re ignorant to it.

And there’s, in your infinite amount of things,

we’re not wired to perceive.

And you’re right, that’s a nice way to put it.

We’re general to all the things we can imagine,

which is a very tiny subset of all things that are possible.

So it’s like comograph complexity

or the comograph chitin sum of complexity.


You know, every bit string or every integer is random,

except for all the ones that you can actually write down.


Yeah, okay.

So beautifully put.

But, you know, so we can just call it artificial intelligence.

We don’t need to have a general.

Or human level.

Human level intelligence is good.

You know, you’ll start, anytime you touch human,

it gets interesting because, you know,

it’s because we attach ourselves to human

and it’s difficult to define what human intelligence is.


Nevertheless, my definition is maybe dem impressive

intelligence, okay?

Dem impressive demonstration of intelligence, whatever.

And so on that topic, most successes in deep learning

have been in supervised learning.

What is your view on unsupervised learning?

Is there a hope to reduce involvement of human input

and still have successful systems

that have practical use?

Yeah, I mean, there’s definitely a hope.

It’s more than a hope, actually.

It’s mounting evidence for it.

And that’s basically all I do.

Like, the only thing I’m interested in at the moment is,

I call it self supervised learning, not unsupervised.

Because unsupervised learning is a loaded term.

People who know something about machine learning,

you know, tell you, so you’re doing clustering or PCA,

which is not the case.

And the white public, you know,

when you say unsupervised learning,

oh my God, machines are gonna learn by themselves

without supervision.

You know, they see this as…

Where’s the parents?

Yeah, so I call it self supervised learning

because, in fact, the underlying algorithms that are used

are the same algorithms as the supervised learning

algorithms, except that what we train them to do

is not predict a particular set of variables,

like the category of an image,

and not to predict a set of variables

that have been provided by human labelers.

But what you’re trying the machine to do

is basically reconstruct a piece of its input

that is being maxed out, essentially.

You can think of it this way, right?

So show a piece of video to a machine

and ask it to predict what’s gonna happen next.

And of course, after a while, you can show what happens

and the machine will kind of train itself

to do better at that task.

You can do like all the latest, most successful models

in natural language processing,

use self supervised learning.

You know, sort of BERT style systems, for example, right?

You show it a window of a dozen words on a text corpus,

you take out 15% of the words,

and then you train the machine to predict the words

that are missing, that self supervised learning.

It’s not predicting the future,

it’s just predicting things in the middle,

but you could have it predict the future,

that’s what language models do.

So you construct, so in an unsupervised way,

you construct a model of language.

Do you think…

Or video or the physical world or whatever, right?

How far do you think that can take us?

Do you think BERT understands anything?

To some level, it has a shallow understanding of text,

but it needs to, I mean,

to have kind of true human level intelligence,

I think you need to ground language in reality.

So some people are attempting to do this, right?

Having systems that kind of have some visual representation

of what is being talked about,

which is one reason you need

those interactive environments actually.

But this is like a huge technical problem

that is not solved,

and that explains why self supervised learning

works in the context of natural language,

but does not work in the context, or at least not well,

in the context of image recognition and video,

although it’s making progress quickly.

And the reason, that reason is the fact that

it’s much easier to represent uncertainty in the prediction

in a context of natural language

than it is in the context of things like video and images.

So for example, if I ask you to predict

what words are missing,

15% of the words that I’ve taken out.

The possibilities are small.

That means… It’s small, right?

There is 100,000 words in the lexicon,

and what the machine spits out

is a big probability vector, right?

It’s a bunch of numbers between zero and one

that sum to one.

And we know how to do this with computers.

So there, representing uncertainty in the prediction

is relatively easy, and that’s, in my opinion,

why those techniques work for NLP.

For images, if you ask…

If you block a piece of an image,

and you ask the system,

reconstruct that piece of the image,

there are many possible answers.

They are all perfectly legit, right?

And how do you represent this set of possible answers?

You can’t train a system to make one prediction.

You can’t train a neural net to say,

here it is, that’s the image,

because there’s a whole set of things

that are compatible with it.

So how do you get the machine to represent

not a single output, but a whole set of outputs?

And similarly with video prediction,

there’s a lot of things that can happen

in the future of video.

You’re looking at me right now.

I’m not moving my head very much,

but I might turn my head to the left or to the right.

If you don’t have a system that can predict this,

and you train it with least square

to minimize the error with the prediction

and what I’m doing,

what you get is a blurry image of myself

in all possible future positions that I might be in,

which is not a good prediction.

So there might be other ways

to do the self supervision for visual scenes.

Like what?

I mean, if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you,

publish it first, I don’t know.

No, there might be.

So I mean, these are kind of,

there might be artificial ways of like self play in games,

the way you can simulate part of the environment.

Oh, that doesn’t solve the problem.

It’s just a way of generating data.

But because you have more of a control,

like maybe you can control,

yeah, it’s a way to generate data.

That’s right.

And because you can do huge amounts of data generation,

that doesn’t, you’re right.

Well, it creeps up on the problem from the side of data,

and you don’t think that’s the right way to creep up.

It doesn’t solve this problem

of handling uncertainty in the world, right?

So if you have a machine learn a predictive model

of the world in a game that is deterministic

or quasi deterministic, it’s easy, right?

Just give a few frames of the game to a ConvNet,

put a bunch of layers,

and then have the game generates the next few frames.

And if the game is deterministic, it works fine.

And that includes feeding the system with the action

that your little character is gonna take.

The problem comes from the fact that the real world

and most games are not entirely predictable.

And so there you get those blurry predictions

and you can’t do planning with blurry predictions, right?

So if you have a perfect model of the world,

you can, in your head, run this model

with a hypothesis for a sequence of actions,

and you’re going to predict the outcome

of that sequence of actions.

But if your model is imperfect, how can you plan?

Yeah, it quickly explodes.

What are your thoughts on the extension of this,

which topic I’m super excited about,

it’s connected to something you were talking about

in terms of robotics, is active learning.

So as opposed to sort of completely unsupervised

or self supervised learning,

you ask the system for human help

for selecting parts you want annotated next.

So if you think about a robot exploring a space

or a baby exploring a space

or a system exploring a data set,

every once in a while asking for human input,

do you see value in that kind of work?

I don’t see transformative value.

It’s going to make things that we can already do

more efficient or they will learn slightly more efficiently,

but it’s not going to make machines

sort of significantly more intelligent.

I think, and by the way, there is no opposition,

there’s no conflict between self supervised learning,

reinforcement learning and supervised learning

or imitation learning or active learning.

I see self supervised learning

as a preliminary to all of the above.


So the example I use very often is how is it that,

so if you use classical reinforcement learning,

deep reinforcement learning, if you want,

the best methods today,

so called model free reinforcement learning

to learn to play Atari games,

take about 80 hours of training to reach the level

that any human can reach in about 15 minutes.

They get better than humans, but it takes them a long time.

Alpha star, okay, the, you know,

Aureal Vinyals and his teams,

the system to play StarCraft plays,

you know, a single map, a single type of player.

A single player and can reach better than human level

with about the equivalent of 200 years of training

playing against itself.

It’s 200 years, right?

It’s not something that no human can ever do.

I mean, I’m not sure what lesson to take away from that.

Okay, now take those algorithms,

the best algorithms we have today

to train a car to drive itself.

It would probably have to drive millions of hours.

It will have to kill thousands of pedestrians.

It will have to run into thousands of trees.

It will have to run off cliffs.

And it had to run off cliff multiple times

before it figures out that it’s a bad idea, first of all.

And second of all, before it figures out how not to do it.

And so, I mean, this type of learning obviously

does not reflect the kind of learning

that animals and humans do.

There is something missing

that’s really, really important there.

And my hypothesis, which I’ve been advocating

for like five years now,

is that we have predictive models of the world

that include the ability to predict under uncertainty.

And what allows us to not run off a cliff

when we learn to drive,

most of us can learn to drive in about 20 or 30 hours

of training without ever crashing, causing any accident.

And if we drive next to a cliff,

we know that if we turn the wheel to the right,

the car is gonna run off the cliff

and nothing good is gonna come out of this.

Because we have a pretty good model of intuitive physics

that tells us the car is gonna fall.

We know about gravity.

Babies learn this around the age of eight or nine months

that objects don’t float, they fall.

And we have a pretty good idea of the effect

of turning the wheel on the car

and we know we need to stay on the road.

So there’s a lot of things that we bring to the table,

which is basically our predictive model of the world.

And that model allows us to not do stupid things.

And to basically stay within the context

of things we need to do.

We still face unpredictable situations

and that’s how we learn.

But that allows us to learn really, really, really quickly.

So that’s called model based reinforcement learning.

There’s some imitation and supervised learning

because we have a driving instructor

that tells us occasionally what to do.

But most of the learning is learning the model,

learning physics that we’ve done since we were babies.

That’s where all, almost all the learning.

And the physics is somewhat transferable from,

it’s transferable from scene to scene.

Stupid things are the same everywhere.

Yeah, I mean, if you have experience of the world,

you don’t need to be from a particularly intelligent species

to know that if you spill water from a container,

the rest is gonna get wet.

You might get wet.

So cats know this, right?


Right, so the main problem we need to solve

is how do we learn models of the world?

That’s what I’m interested in.

That’s what self supervised learning is all about.

If you were to try to construct a benchmark for,

let’s look at MNIST.

I love that data set.

Do you think it’s useful, interesting, slash possible

to perform well on MNIST with just one example

of each digit and how would we solve that problem?

The answer is probably yes.

The question is what other type of learning

are you allowed to do?

So if what you’re allowed to do is train

on some gigantic data set of labeled digit,

that’s called transfer learning.

And we know that works, okay?

We do this at Facebook, like in production, right?

We train large convolutional nets to predict hashtags

that people type on Instagram

and we train on billions of images, literally billions.

And then we chop off the last layer

and fine tune on whatever task we want.

That works really well.

You can beat the ImageNet record with this.

We actually open sourced the whole thing

like a few weeks ago.

Yeah, that’s still pretty cool.

But yeah, so what would be impressive?

What’s useful and impressive?

What kind of transfer learning

would be useful and impressive?

Is it Wikipedia, that kind of thing?

No, no, so I don’t think transfer learning

is really where we should focus.

We should try to do,

you know, have a kind of scenario for Benchmark

where you have unlabeled data

and you can, and it’s very large number of unlabeled data.

It could be video clips.

It could be where you do, you know, frame prediction.

It could be images where you could choose to,

you know, mask a piece of it, could be whatever,

but they’re unlabeled and you’re not allowed to label them.

So you do some training on this,

and then you train on a particular supervised task,

ImageNet or a NIST,

and you measure how your test error decrease

or validation error decreases

as you increase the number of label training samples.

Okay, and what you’d like to see is that,

you know, your error decreases much faster

than if you train from scratch from random weights.

So that to reach the same level of performance

and a completely supervised, purely supervised system

would reach you would need way fewer samples.

So that’s the crucial question

because it will answer the question to like, you know,

people interested in medical image analysis.

Okay, you know, if I want to get to a particular level

of error rate for this task,

I know I need a million samples.

Can I do, you know, self supervised pre training

to reduce this to about 100 or something?

And you think the answer there

is self supervised pre training?

Yeah, some form, some form of it.

Telling you active learning, but you disagree.

No, it’s not useless.

It’s just not gonna lead to a quantum leap.

It’s just gonna make things that we already do.

So you’re way smarter than me.

I just disagree with you.

But I don’t have anything to back that.

It’s just intuition.

So I worked a lot of large scale data sets

and there’s something that might be magic

in active learning, but okay.

And at least I said it publicly.

At least I’m being an idiot publicly.


It’s not being an idiot.

It’s, you know, working with the data you have.

I mean, I mean, certainly people are doing things like,

okay, I have 3000 hours of, you know,

imitation learning for start driving car,

but most of those are incredibly boring.

What I like is select, you know, 10% of them

that are kind of the most informative.

And with just that, I would probably reach the same.

So it’s a weak form of active learning if you want.

Yes, but there might be a much stronger version.

Yeah, that’s right.

That’s what, and that’s an awful question if it exists.

The question is how much stronger can you get?

Elon Musk is confident.

Talked to him recently.

He’s confident that large scale data and deep learning

can solve the autonomous driving problem.

What are your thoughts on the limits,

possibilities of deep learning in this space?

It’s obviously part of the solution.

I mean, I don’t think we’ll ever have a set driving system

or at least not in the foreseeable future

that does not use deep learning.

Let me put it this way.

Now, how much of it?

So in the history of sort of engineering,

particularly sort of AI like systems,

there’s generally a first phase where everything is built by hand.

Then there is a second phase.

And that was the case for autonomous driving 20, 30 years ago.

There’s a phase where there’s a little bit of learning is used,

but there’s a lot of engineering that’s involved in kind of

taking care of corner cases and putting limits, et cetera,

because the learning system is not perfect.

And then as technology progresses,

we end up relying more and more on learning.

That’s the history of character recognition,

it’s the history of science.

Character recognition is the history of speech recognition,

now computer vision, natural language processing.

And I think the same is going to happen with autonomous driving

that currently the methods that are closest

to providing some level of autonomy,

some decent level of autonomy

where you don’t expect a driver to kind of do anything

is where you constrain the world.

So you only run within 100 square kilometers

or square miles in Phoenix where the weather is nice

and the roads are wide, which is what Waymo is doing.

You completely overengineer the car with tons of LIDARs

and sophisticated sensors that are too expensive

for consumer cars,

but they’re fine if you just run a fleet.

And you engineer the hell out of everything else.

You map the entire world.

So you have complete 3D model of everything.

So the only thing that the perception system

has to take care of is moving objects

and construction and sort of things that weren’t in your map.

And you can engineer a good SLAM system and all that stuff.

So that’s kind of the current approach

that’s closest to some level of autonomy.

But I think eventually the longterm solution

is going to rely more and more on learning

and possibly using a combination

of self supervised learning and model based reinforcement

or something like that.

But ultimately learning will be not just at the core,

but really the fundamental part of the system.

Yeah, it already is, but it will become more and more.

What do you think it takes to build a system

with human level intelligence?

You talked about the AI system in the movie Her

being way out of reach, our current reach.

This might be outdated as well, but.

It’s still way out of reach.

What would it take to build Her?

Do you think?

So I can tell you the first two obstacles

that we have to clear,

but I don’t know how many obstacles there are after this.

So the image I usually use is that

there is a bunch of mountains that we have to climb

and we can see the first one,

but we don’t know if there are 50 mountains behind it or not.

And this might be a good sort of metaphor

for why AI researchers in the past

have been overly optimistic about the result of AI.

You know, for example,

Noel and Simon wrote the general problem solver

and they called it the general problem solver.

General problem solver.

And of course, the first thing you realize

is that all the problems you want to solve are exponential.

And so you can’t actually use it for anything useful,

but you know.

Yeah, so yeah, all you see is the first peak.

So in general, what are the first couple of peaks for Her?

So the first peak, which is precisely what I’m working on

is self supervised learning.

How do we get machines to run models of the world

by observation, kind of like babies and like young animals?

So we’ve been working with, you know, cognitive scientists.

So this Emmanuelle Dupoux, who’s at FAIR in Paris,

is a half time, is also a researcher in a French university.

And he has this chart that shows that which,

how many months of life baby humans

kind of learn different concepts.

And you can measure this in sort of various ways.

So things like distinguishing animate objects

from inanimate objects,

you can tell the difference at age two, three months.

Whether an object is going to stay stable,

is going to fall, you know,

about four months, you can tell.

You know, there are various things like this.

And then things like gravity,

the fact that objects are not supposed to float in the air,

but are supposed to fall,

you run this around the age of eight or nine months.

If you look at the data,

eight or nine months, if you look at a lot of,

you know, eight month old babies,

you give them a bunch of toys on their high chair.

First thing they do is they throw them on the ground

and they look at them.

It’s because, you know, they’re learning about,

actively learning about gravity.

Gravity, yeah.

Okay, so they’re not trying to annoy you,

but they, you know, they need to do the experiment, right?


So, you know, how do we get machines to learn like babies,

mostly by observation with a little bit of interaction

and learning those models of the world?

Because I think that’s really a crucial piece

of an intelligent autonomous system.

So if you think about the architecture

of an intelligent autonomous system,

it needs to have a predictive model of the world.

So something that says, here is a world at time T,

here is a state of the world at time T plus one,

if I take this action.

And it’s not a single answer, it can be a…

Yeah, it can be a distribution, yeah.

Yeah, well, but we don’t know how to represent

distributions in high dimensional T spaces.

So it’s gotta be something weaker than that, okay?

But with some representation of uncertainty.

If you have that, then you can do what optimal control

theorists call model predictive control,

which means that you can run your model

with a hypothesis for a sequence of action

and then see the result.

Now, what you need, the other thing you need

is some sort of objective that you want to optimize.

Am I reaching the goal of grabbing this object?

Am I minimizing energy?

Am I whatever, right?

So there is some sort of objective that you have to minimize.

And so in your head, if you have this model,

you can figure out the sequence of action

that will optimize your objective.

That objective is something that ultimately is rooted

in your basal ganglia, at least in the human brain,

that’s what it’s basal ganglia,

computes your level of contentment or miscontentment.

I don’t know if that’s a word.

Unhappiness, okay?

Yeah, yeah.


Discontentment, maybe.

And so your entire behavior is driven towards

kind of minimizing that objective,

which is maximizing your contentment,

computed by your basal ganglia.

And what you have is an objective function,

which is basically a predictor

of what your basal ganglia is going to tell you.

So you’re not going to put your hand on fire

because you know it’s going to burn

and you’re going to get hurt.

And you’re predicting this because of your model

of the world and your sort of predictor

of this objective, right?

So if you have those three components,

you have four components,

you have the hardwired objective,

hardwired contentment objective computer,

if you want, calculator.

And then you have the three components.

One is the objective predictor,

which basically predicts your level of contentment.

One is the model of the world.

And there’s a third module I didn’t mention,

which is the module that will figure out

the best course of action to optimize an objective

given your model, okay?


And you can call this a policy network

or something like that, right?

Now, you need those three components

to act autonomously intelligently.

And you can be stupid in three different ways.

You can be stupid because your model of the world is wrong.

You can be stupid because your objective is not aligned

with what you actually want to achieve, okay?

In humans, that would be a psychopath.

And then the third way you can be stupid

is that you have the right model,

you have the right objective,

but you’re unable to figure out a course of action

to optimize your objective given your model.


Some people who are in charge of big countries

actually have all three that are wrong.

All right.

Which countries?

I don’t know.

Okay, so if we think about this agent,

if we think about the movie Her,

you’ve criticized the art project

that is Sophia the Robot.

And what that project essentially does

is uses our natural inclination to anthropomorphize

things that look like human and give them more.

Do you think that could be used by AI systems

like in the movie Her?

So do you think that body is needed

to create a feeling of intelligence?

Well, if Sophia was just an art piece,

I would have no problem with it,

but it’s presented as something else.

Let me, on that comment real quick,

if creators of Sophia could change something

about their marketing or behavior in general,

what would it be?


I’m just about everything.

I mean, don’t you think, here’s a tough question.

Let me, so I agree with you.

So Sophia is not, the general public feels

that Sophia can do way more than she actually can.

That’s right.

And the people who created Sophia

are not honestly publicly communicating,

trying to teach the public.


But here’s a tough question.

Don’t you think the same thing is scientists

in industry and research are taking advantage

of the same misunderstanding in the public

when they create AI companies or publish stuff?

Some companies, yes.

I mean, there is no sense of,

there’s no desire to delude.

There’s no desire to kind of over claim

when something is done, right?

You publish a paper on AI that has this result

on ImageNet, it’s pretty clear.

I mean, it’s not even interesting anymore,

but I don’t think there is that.

I mean, the reviewers are generally not very forgiving

of unsupported claims of this type.

And, but there are certainly quite a few startups

that have had a huge amount of hype around this

that I find extremely damaging

and I’ve been calling it out when I’ve seen it.

So yeah, but to go back to your original question,

like the necessity of embodiment,

I think, I don’t think embodiment is necessary.

I think grounding is necessary.

So I don’t think we’re gonna get machines

that really understand language

without some level of grounding in the real world.

And it’s not clear to me that language

is a high enough bandwidth medium

to communicate how the real world works.

So I think for this.

Can you talk to what grounding means?

So grounding means that,

so there is this classic problem of common sense reasoning,

you know, the Winograd schema, right?

And so I tell you the trophy doesn’t fit in the suitcase

because it’s too big,

or the trophy doesn’t fit in the suitcase

because it’s too small.

And the it in the first case refers to the trophy

in the second case to the suitcase.

And the reason you can figure this out

is because you know where the trophy and the suitcase are,

you know, one is supposed to fit in the other one

and you know the notion of size

and a big object doesn’t fit in a small object,

unless it’s a Tardis, you know, things like that, right?

So you have this knowledge of how the world works,

of geometry and things like that.

I don’t believe you can learn everything about the world

by just being told in language how the world works.

I think you need some low level perception of the world,

you know, be it visual touch, you know, whatever,

but some higher bandwidth perception of the world.

By reading all the world’s text,

you still might not have enough information.

That’s right.

There’s a lot of things that just will never appear in text

and that you can’t really infer.

So I think common sense will emerge from,

you know, certainly a lot of language interaction,

but also with watching videos

or perhaps even interacting in virtual environments

and possibly, you know, robot interacting in the real world.

But I don’t actually believe necessarily

that this last one is absolutely necessary.

But I think that there’s a need for some grounding.

But the final product

doesn’t necessarily need to be embodied, you’re saying.


It just needs to have an awareness, a grounding to.

Right, but it needs to know how the world works

to have, you know, to not be frustrating to talk to.

And you talked about emotions being important.

That’s a whole nother topic.

Well, so, you know, I talked about this,

the basal ganglia as the thing

that calculates your level of miscontentment.

And then there is this other module

that sort of tries to do a prediction

of whether you’re going to be content or not.

That’s the source of some emotion.

So fear, for example, is an anticipation

of bad things that can happen to you, right?

You have this inkling that there is some chance

that something really bad is going to happen to you

and that creates fear.

Well, you know for sure

that something bad is going to happen to you,

you kind of give up, right?

It’s not fear anymore.

It’s uncertainty that creates fear.

So the punchline is,

we’re not going to have autonomous intelligence

without emotions.

Whatever the heck emotions are.

So you mentioned very practical things of fear,

but there’s a lot of other mess around it.

But there are kind of the results of, you know, drives.

Yeah, there’s deeper biological stuff going on.

And I’ve talked to a few folks on this.

There’s fascinating stuff

that ultimately connects to our brain.

If we create an AGI system, sorry.

Human level intelligence.

Human level intelligence system.

And you get to ask her one question.

What would that question be?

You know, I think the first one we’ll create

would probably not be that smart.

They’d be like a four year old.


So you would have to ask her a question

to know she’s not that smart.


Well, what’s a good question to ask, you know,

to be impressed.

What is the cause of wind?

And if she answers,

oh, it’s because the leaves of the tree are moving

and that creates wind.

She’s onto something.

And if she says that’s a stupid question,

she’s really onto something.

No, and then you tell her,

actually, you know, here is the real thing.

She says, oh yeah, that makes sense.

So questions that reveal the ability

to do common sense reasoning about the physical world.


And you’ll sum it up with causal inference.

Causal inference.

Well, it was a huge honor.

Congratulations on your Turing Award.

Thank you so much for talking today.

Thank you.

Thank you for having me.

comments powered by Disqus