Lex Fridman Podcast - #258 - Yann LeCun: Dark Matter of Intelligence and Self-Supervised Learning

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The following is a conversation with Yann LeCun,

his second time on the podcast.

He is the chief AI scientist at Meta, formerly Facebook,

professor at NYU, touring award winner,

one of the seminal figures in the history

of machine learning and artificial intelligence,

and someone who is brilliant and opinionated

in the best kind of way.

And so it was always fun to talk to him.

This is the Lex Friedman podcast.

To support it, please check out our sponsors

in the description.

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

You cowrote the article,

Self Supervised Learning, the Dark Matter of Intelligence.

Great title, by the way, with Ishan Mizra.

So let me ask, what is self supervised learning,

and why is it the dark matter of intelligence?

I’ll start by the dark matter part.

There is obviously a kind of learning

that humans and animals are doing

that we currently are not reproducing properly

with machines or with AI, right?

So the most popular approaches to machine learning today are,

or paradigms, I should say,

are supervised learning and reinforcement learning.

And they are extremely inefficient.

Supervised learning requires many samples

for learning anything.

And reinforcement learning requires a ridiculously large

number of trial and errors for a system to learn anything.

And that’s why we don’t have self driving cars.

That was a big leap from one to the other.

Okay, so that, to solve difficult problems,

you have to have a lot of human annotation

for supervised learning to work.

And to solve those difficult problems

with reinforcement learning,

you have to have some way to maybe simulate that problem

such that you can do that large scale kind of learning

that reinforcement learning requires.

Right, so how is it that most teenagers can learn

to drive a car in about 20 hours of practice,

whereas even with millions of hours of simulated practice,

a self driving car can’t actually learn

to drive itself properly.

And so obviously we’re missing something, right?

And it’s quite obvious for a lot of people

that the immediate response you get from many people is,

well, humans use their background knowledge

to learn faster, and they’re right.

Now, how was that background knowledge acquired?

And that’s the big question.

So now you have to ask, how do babies

in the first few months of life learn how the world works?

Mostly by observation,

because they can hardly act in the world.

And they learn an enormous amount

of background knowledge about the world

that may be the basis of what we call common sense.

This type of learning is not learning a task.

It’s not being reinforced for anything.

It’s just observing the world and figuring out how it works.

Building world models, learning world models.

How do we do this?

And how do we reproduce this in machines?

So self supervised learning is one instance

or one attempt at trying to reproduce this kind of learning.

Okay, so you’re looking at just observation,

so not even the interacting part of a child.

It’s just sitting there watching mom and dad walk around,

pick up stuff, all of that.

That’s what we mean about background knowledge.

Perhaps not even watching mom and dad,

just watching the world go by.

Just having eyes open or having eyes closed

or the very act of opening and closing eyes

that the world appears and disappears,

all that basic information.

And you’re saying in order to learn to drive,

like the reason humans are able to learn to drive quickly,

some faster than others,

is because of the background knowledge.

They’re able to watch cars operate in the world

in the many years leading up to it,

the physics of basic objects, all that kind of stuff.

That’s right.

I mean, the basic physics of objects,

you don’t even need to know how a car works, right?

Because that you can learn fairly quickly.

I mean, the example I use very often

is you’re driving next to a cliff.

And you know in advance because of your understanding

of intuitive physics that if you turn the wheel

to the right, the car will veer to the right,

will run off the cliff, fall off the cliff,

and nothing good will come out of this, right?

But if you are a sort of tabularized

reinforcement learning system

that doesn’t have a model of the world,

you have to repeat falling off this cliff

thousands of times before you figure out it’s a bad idea.

And then a few more thousand times

before you figure out how to not do it.

And then a few more million times

before you figure out how to not do it

in every situation you ever encounter.

So self supervised learning still has to have

some source of truth being told to it by somebody.

So you have to figure out a way without human assistance

or without significant amount of human assistance

to get that truth from the world.

So the mystery there is how much signal is there?

How much truth is there that the world gives you?

Whether it’s the human world,

like you watch YouTube or something like that,

or it’s the more natural world.

So how much signal is there?

So here’s the trick.

There is way more signal in sort of a self supervised

setting than there is in either a supervised

or reinforcement setting.

And this is going to my analogy of the cake.

The cake as someone has called it,

where when you try to figure out how much information

you ask the machine to predict

and how much feedback you give the machine at every trial,

in reinforcement learning,

you give the machine a single scalar.

You tell the machine you did good, you did bad.

And you only tell this to the machine once in a while.

When I say you, it could be the universe

telling the machine, right?

But it’s just one scalar.

And so as a consequence,

you cannot possibly learn something very complicated

without many, many, many trials

where you get many, many feedbacks of this type.

Supervised learning, you give a few bits to the machine

at every sample.

Let’s say you’re training a system on recognizing images

on ImageNet with 1000 categories,

that’s a little less than 10 bits of information per sample.

But self supervised learning, here is the setting.

Ideally, we don’t know how to do this yet,

but ideally you would show a machine a segment of video

and then stop the video and ask the machine to predict

what’s going to happen next.

And so we let the machine predict

and then you let time go by

and show the machine what actually happened

and hope the machine will learn to do a better job

at predicting next time around.

There’s a huge amount of information you give the machine

because it’s an entire video clip

of the future after the video clip you fed it

in the first place.

So both for language and for vision, there’s a subtle,

seemingly trivial construction,

but maybe that’s representative

of what is required to create intelligence,

which is filling the gap.

So it sounds dumb, but can you,

it is possible you could solve all of intelligence

in this way, just for both language,

just give a sentence and continue it

or give a sentence and there’s a gap in it,

some words blanked out and you fill in what words go there.

For vision, you give a sequence of images

and predict what’s going to happen next,

or you fill in what happened in between.

Do you think it’s possible that formulation alone

as a signal for self supervised learning

can solve intelligence for vision and language?

I think that’s the best shot at the moment.

So whether this will take us all the way

to human level intelligence or something,

or just cat level intelligence is not clear,

but among all the possible approaches

that people have proposed, I think it’s our best shot.

So I think this idea of an intelligent system

filling in the blanks, either predicting the future,

inferring the past, filling in missing information,

I’m currently filling the blank

of what is behind your head

and what your head looks like from the back,

because I have basic knowledge about how humans are made.

And I don’t know what you’re going to say,

at which point you’re going to speak,

whether you’re going to move your head this way or that way,

which way you’re going to look,

but I know you’re not going to just dematerialize

and reappear three meters down the hall,

because I know what’s possible and what’s impossible

according to intuitive physics.

You have a model of what’s possible and what’s impossible

and then you’d be very surprised if it happens

and then you’ll have to reconstruct your model.

Right, so that’s the model of the world.

It’s what tells you, what fills in the blanks.

So given your partial information about the state

of the world, given by your perception,

your model of the world fills in the missing information

and that includes predicting the future,

re predicting the past, filling in things

you don’t immediately perceive.

And that doesn’t have to be purely generic vision

or visual information or generic language.

You can go to specifics like predicting

what control decision you make when you’re driving

in a lane, you have a sequence of images from a vehicle

and then you have information if you record it on video

where the car ended up going so you can go back in time

and predict where the car went

based on the visual information.

That’s very specific, domain specific.

Right, but the question is whether we can come up

with sort of a generic method for training machines

to do this kind of prediction or filling in the blanks.

So right now, this type of approach has been unbelievably

successful in the context of natural language processing.

Every modern natural language processing is pre trained

in self supervised manner to fill in the blanks.

You show it a sequence of words, you remove 10% of them

and then you train some gigantic neural net

to predict the words that are missing.

And once you’ve pre trained that network,

you can use the internal representation learned by it

as input to something that you train supervised

or whatever.

That’s been incredibly successful.

Not so successful in images, although it’s making progress

and it’s based on sort of manual data augmentation.

We can go into this later,

but what has not been successful yet is training from video.

So getting a machine to learn to represent

the visual world, for example, by just watching video.

Nobody has really succeeded in doing this.

Okay, well, let’s kind of give a high level overview.

What’s the difference in kind and in difficulty

between vision and language?

So you said people haven’t been able to really

kind of crack the problem of vision open

in terms of self supervised learning,

but that may not be necessarily

because it’s fundamentally more difficult.

Maybe like when we’re talking about achieving,

like passing the Turing test in the full spirit

of the Turing test in language might be harder than vision.

That’s not obvious.

So in your view, which is harder

or perhaps are they just the same problem?

When the farther we get to solving each,

the more we realize it’s all the same thing.

It’s all the same cake.

I think what I’m looking for are methods

that make them look essentially like the same cake,

but currently they’re not.

And the main issue with learning world models

or learning predictive models is that the prediction

is never a single thing

because the world is not entirely predictable.

It may be deterministic or stochastic.

We can get into the philosophical discussion about it,

but even if it’s deterministic,

it’s not entirely predictable.

And so if I play a short video clip

and then I ask you to predict what’s going to happen next,

there’s many, many plausible continuations

for that video clip and the number of continuation grows

with the interval of time that you’re asking the system

to make a prediction for.

And so one big question with self supervised learning

is how you represent this uncertainty,

how you represent multiple discrete outcomes,

how you represent a sort of continuum

of possible outcomes, et cetera.

And if you are sort of a classical machine learning person,

you say, oh, you just represent a distribution, right?

And that we know how to do when we’re predicting words,

missing words in the text,

because you can have a neural net give a score

for every word in the dictionary.

It’s a big list of numbers, maybe 100,000 or so.

And you can turn them into a probability distribution

that tells you when I say a sentence,

the cat is chasing the blank in the kitchen.

There are only a few words that make sense there.

It could be a mouse or it could be a lizard spot

or something like that, right?

And if I say the blank is chasing the blank in the Savannah,

you also have a bunch of plausible options

for those two words, right?

Because you have kind of a underlying reality

that you can refer to to sort of fill in those blanks.

So you cannot say for sure in the Savannah,

if it’s a lion or a cheetah or whatever,

you cannot know if it’s a zebra or a do or whatever,

wildebeest, the same thing.

But you can represent the uncertainty

by just a long list of numbers.

Now, if I do the same thing with video,

when I ask you to predict a video clip,

it’s not a discrete set of potential frames.

You have to have somewhere representing

a sort of infinite number of plausible continuations

of multiple frames in a high dimensional continuous space.

And we just have no idea how to do this properly.

Fine night, high dimensional.

So like you,

It’s finite high dimensional, yes.

Just like the words,

they try to get it down to a small finite set

of like under a million, something like that.

Something like that.

I mean, it’s kind of ridiculous that we’re doing

a distribution over every single possible word

for language and it works.

It feels like that’s a really dumb way to do it.

Like there seems to be like there should be

some more compressed representation

of the distribution of the words.

You’re right about that.

And so do you have any interesting ideas

about how to represent all of reality in a compressed way

such that you can form a distribution over it?

That’s one of the big questions, how do you do that?

Right, I mean, what’s kind of another thing

that really is stupid about, I shouldn’t say stupid,

but like simplistic about current approaches

to self supervised learning in NLP in text

is that not only do you represent

a giant distribution over words,

but for multiple words that are missing,

those distributions are essentially independent

of each other.

And you don’t pay too much of a price for this.

So you can’t, so the system in the sentence

that I gave earlier, if it gives a certain probability

for a lion and cheetah, and then a certain probability

for gazelle, wildebeest and zebra,

those two probabilities are independent of each other.

And it’s not the case that those things are independent.

Lions actually attack like bigger animals than cheetahs.

So there’s a huge independent hypothesis in this process,

which is not actually true.

The reason for this is that we don’t know

how to represent properly distributions

over combinatorial sequences of symbols,

essentially because the number grows exponentially

with the length of the symbols.

And so we have to use tricks for this,

but those techniques can get around,

like don’t even deal with it.

So the big question is would there be some sort

of abstract latent representation of text

that would say that when I switch lion for gazelle,

lion for cheetah, I also have to switch zebra for gazelle?

Yeah, so this independence assumption,

let me throw some criticism at you that I often hear

and see how you respond.

So this kind of filling in the blanks is just statistics.

You’re not learning anything

like the deep underlying concepts.

You’re just mimicking stuff from the past.

You’re not learning anything new such that you can use it

to generalize about the world.

Or okay, let me just say the crude version,

which is just statistics.

It’s not intelligence.

What do you have to say to that?

What do you usually say to that

if you kind of hear this kind of thing?

I don’t get into those discussions

because they are kind of pointless.

So first of all, it’s quite possible

that intelligence is just statistics.

It’s just statistics of a particular kind.

Yes, this is the philosophical question.

It’s kind of is it possible

that intelligence is just statistics?

Yeah, but what kind of statistics?

So if you are asking the question,

are the models of the world that we learn,

do they have some notion of causality?


So if the criticism comes from people who say,

current machine learning system don’t care about causality,

which by the way is wrong, I agree with them.

Your model of the world should have your actions

as one of the inputs.

And that will drive you to learn causal models of the world

where you know what intervention in the world

will cause what result.

Or you can do this by observation of other agents

acting in the world and observing the effect.

Other humans, for example.

So I think at some level of description,

intelligence is just statistics.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t have models

that have deep mechanistic explanation for what goes on.

The question is how do you learn them?

That’s the question I’m interested in.

Because a lot of people who actually voice their criticism

say that those mechanistic model

have to come from someplace else.

They have to come from human designers,

they have to come from I don’t know what.

And obviously we learn them.

Or if we don’t learn them as an individual,

nature learn them for us using evolution.

So regardless of what you think,

those processes have been learned somehow.

So if you look at the human brain,

just like when we humans introspect

about how the brain works,

it seems like when we think about what is intelligence,

we think about the high level stuff,

like the models we’ve constructed,

concepts like cognitive science,

like concepts of memory and reasoning module,

almost like these high level modules.

Is this serve as a good analogy?

Like are we ignoring the dark matter,

the basic low level mechanisms?

Just like we ignore the way the operating system works,

we’re just using the high level software.

We’re ignoring that at the low level,

the neural network might be doing something like statistics.

Like meaning, sorry to use this word

probably incorrectly and crudely,

but doing this kind of fill in the gap kind of learning

and just kind of updating the model constantly

in order to be able to support the raw sensory information

to predict it and then adjust to the prediction

when it’s wrong.

But like when we look at our brain at the high level,

it feels like we’re doing, like we’re playing chess,

like we’re like playing with high level concepts

and we’re stitching them together

and we’re putting them into longterm memory.

But really what’s going underneath

is something we’re not able to introspect,

which is this kind of simple, large neural network

that’s just filling in the gaps.

Right, well, okay.

So there’s a lot of questions and a lot of answers there.

Okay, so first of all,

there’s a whole school of thought in neuroscience,

computational neuroscience in particular,

that likes the idea of predictive coding,

which is really related to the idea

I was talking about in self supervised learning.

So everything is about prediction.

The essence of intelligence is the ability to predict

and everything the brain does is trying to predict,

predict everything from everything else.

Okay, and that’s really sort of the underlying principle,

if you want, that self supervised learning

is trying to kind of reproduce this idea of prediction

as kind of an essential mechanism

of task independent learning, if you want.

The next step is what kind of intelligence

are you interested in reproducing?

And of course, we all think about trying to reproduce

sort of high level cognitive processes in humans,

but like with machines, we’re not even at the level

of even reproducing the learning processes in a cat brain.

The most intelligent or intelligent systems

don’t have as much common sense as a house cat.

So how is it that cats learn?

And cats don’t do a whole lot of reasoning.

They certainly have causal models.

They certainly have, because many cats can figure out

how they can act on the world to get what they want.

They certainly have a fantastic model of intuitive physics,

certainly the dynamics of their own bodies,

but also of praise and things like that.

So they’re pretty smart.

They only do this with about 800 million neurons.

We are not anywhere close to reproducing this kind of thing.

So to some extent, I could say,

let’s not even worry about like the high level cognition

and kind of longterm planning and reasoning

that humans can do until we figure out like,

can we even reproduce what cats are doing?

Now that said, this ability to learn world models,

I think is the key to the possibility of learning machines

that can also reason.

So whenever I give a talk, I say there are three challenges

in the three main challenges in machine learning.

The first one is getting machines to learn

to represent the world

and I’m proposing self supervised learning.

The second is getting machines to reason

in ways that are compatible

with essentially gradient based learning

because this is what deep learning is all about really.

And the third one is something

we have no idea how to solve,

at least I have no idea how to solve

is can we get machines to learn hierarchical representations

of action plans?

We know how to train them

to learn hierarchical representations of perception

with convolutional nets and things like that

and transformers, but what about action plans?

Can we get them to spontaneously learn

good hierarchical representations of actions?

Also gradient based.

Yeah, all of that needs to be somewhat differentiable

so that you can apply sort of gradient based learning,

which is really what deep learning is about.

So it’s background, knowledge, ability to reason

in a way that’s differentiable

that is somehow connected, deeply integrated

with that background knowledge

or builds on top of that background knowledge

and then given that background knowledge

be able to make hierarchical plans in the world.

So if you take classical optimal control,

there’s something in classical optimal control

called model predictive control.

And it’s been around since the early sixties.

NASA uses that to compute trajectories of rockets.

And the basic idea is that you have a predictive model

of the rocket, let’s say,

or whatever system you intend to control,

which given the state of the system at time T

and given an action that you’re taking the system.

So for a rocket to be thrust

and all the controls you can have,

it gives you the state of the system

at time T plus Delta T, right?

So basically a differential equation, something like that.

And if you have this model

and you have this model in the form of some sort of neural net

or some sort of a set of formula

that you can back propagate gradient through,

you can do what’s called model predictive control

or gradient based model predictive control.

So you can unroll that model in time.

You feed it a hypothesized sequence of actions.

And then you have some objective function

that measures how well at the end of the trajectory,

the system has succeeded or matched what you wanted to do.

Is it a robot harm?

Have you grasped the object you want to grasp?

If it’s a rocket, are you at the right place

near the space station, things like that.

And by back propagation through time,

and again, this was invented in the 1960s,

by optimal control theorists, you can figure out

what is the optimal sequence of actions

that will get my system to the best final state.

So that’s a form of reasoning.

It’s basically planning.

And a lot of planning systems in robotics

are actually based on this.

And you can think of this as a form of reasoning.

So to take the example of the teenager driving a car,

you have a pretty good dynamical model of the car.

It doesn’t need to be very accurate.

But you know, again, that if you turn the wheel

to the right and there is a cliff,

you’re gonna run off the cliff, right?

You don’t need to have a very accurate model

to predict that.

And you can run this in your mind

and decide not to do it for that reason.

Because you can predict in advance

that the result is gonna be bad.

So you can sort of imagine different scenarios

and then employ or take the first step

in the scenario that is most favorable

and then repeat the process again.

The scenario that is most favorable

and then repeat the process of planning.

That’s called receding horizon model predictive control.

So even all those things have names going back decades.

And so if you’re not a classical optimal control,

the model of the world is not generally learned.

Sometimes a few parameters you have to identify.

That’s called systems identification.

But generally, the model is mostly deterministic

and mostly built by hand.

So the question of AI,

I think the big challenge of AI for the next decade

is how do we get machines to learn predictive models

of the world that deal with uncertainty

and deal with the real world in all this complexity?

So it’s not just the trajectory of a rocket,

which you can reduce to first principles.

It’s not even just the trajectory of a robot arm,

which again, you can model by careful mathematics.

But it’s everything else,

everything we observe in the world.

People, behavior,

physical systems that involve collective phenomena,

like water or trees and branches in a tree or something

or complex things that humans have no trouble

developing abstract representations

and predictive model for,

but we still don’t know how to do with machines.

Where do you put in these three,

maybe in the planning stages,

the game theoretic nature of this world,

where your actions not only respond

to the dynamic nature of the world, the environment,

but also affect it.

So if there’s other humans involved,

is this point number four,

or is it somehow integrated

into the hierarchical representation of action

in your view?

I think it’s integrated.

It’s just that now your model of the world has to deal with,

it just makes it more complicated.

The fact that humans are complicated

and not easily predictable,

that makes your model of the world much more complicated,

that much more complicated.

Well, there’s a chess,

I mean, I suppose chess is an analogy.

So multicolored tree search.

There’s a, I go, you go, I go, you go.

Like Andre Capote recently gave a talk at MIT

about car doors.

I think there’s some machine learning too,

but mostly car doors.

And there’s a dynamic nature to the car,

like the person opening the door,

checking, I mean, he wasn’t talking about that.

He was talking about the perception problem

of what the ontology of what defines a car door,

this big philosophical question.

But to me, it was interesting

because it’s obvious that the person opening the car doors,

they’re trying to get out, like here in New York,

trying to get out of the car.

You slowing down is going to signal something.

You speeding up is gonna signal something,

and that’s a dance.

It’s a asynchronous chess game.

I don’t know.

So it feels like it’s not just,

I mean, I guess you can integrate all of them

to one giant model, like the entirety

of these little interactions.

Because it’s not as complicated as chess.

It’s just like a little dance.

We do like a little dance together,

and then we figure it out.

Well, in some ways it’s way more complicated than chess

because it’s continuous, it’s uncertain

in a continuous manner.

It doesn’t feel more complicated.

But it doesn’t feel more complicated

because that’s what we’ve evolved to solve.

This is the kind of problem we’ve evolved to solve.

And so we’re good at it

because nature has made us good at it.

Nature has not made us good at chess.

We completely suck at chess.

In fact, that’s why we designed it as a game,

is to be challenging.

And if there is something that recent progress

in chess and Go has made us realize

is that humans are really terrible at those things,

like really bad.

There was a story right before AlphaGo

that the best Go players thought

there were maybe two or three stones behind an ideal player

that they would call God.

In fact, no, there are like nine or 10 stones behind.

I mean, we’re just bad.

So we’re not good at,

and it’s because we have limited working memory.

We’re not very good at doing this tree exploration

that computers are much better at doing than we are.

But we are much better

at learning differentiable models to the world.

I mean, I said differentiable in a kind of,

I should say not differentiable in the sense that

we went back far through it,

but in the sense that our brain has some mechanism

for estimating gradients of some kind.

And that’s what makes us efficient.

So if you have an agent that consists of a model

of the world, which in the human brain

is basically the entire front half of your brain,

an objective function,

which in humans is a combination of two things.

There is your sort of intrinsic motivation module,

which is in the basal ganglia,

the base of your brain.

That’s the thing that measures pain and hunger

and things like that,

like immediate feelings and emotions.

And then there is the equivalent

of what people in reinforcement learning call a critic,

which is a sort of module that predicts ahead

what the outcome of a situation will be.

And so it’s not a cost function,

but it’s sort of not an objective function,

but it’s sort of a train predictor

of the ultimate objective function.

And that also is differentiable.

And so if all of this is differentiable,

your cost function, your critic, your world model,

then you can use gradient based type methods

to do planning, to do reasoning, to do learning,

to do all the things that we’d like

an intelligent agent to do.

And gradient based learning,

like what’s your intuition?

That’s probably at the core of what can solve intelligence.

So you don’t need like logic based reasoning in your view.

I don’t know how to make logic based reasoning

compatible with efficient learning.

Okay, I mean, there is a big question,

perhaps a philosophical question.

I mean, it’s not that philosophical,

but that we can ask is that all the learning algorithms

we know from engineering and computer science

proceed by optimizing some objective function.

So one question we may ask is,

does learning in the brain minimize an objective function?

I mean, it could be a composite

of multiple objective functions,

but it’s still an objective function.

Second, if it does optimize an objective function,

does it do it by some sort of gradient estimation?

It doesn’t need to be a back prop,

but some way of estimating the gradient in efficient manner

whose complexity is on the same order of magnitude

as actually running the inference.

Because you can’t afford to do things

like perturbing a weight in your brain

to figure out what the effect is.

And then sort of, you can do sort of

estimating gradient by perturbation.

To me, it seems very implausible

that the brain uses some sort of zeroth order black box

gradient free optimization,

because it’s so much less efficient

than gradient optimization.

So it has to have a way of estimating gradient.

Is it possible that some kind of logic based reasoning

emerges in pockets as a useful,

like you said, if the brain is an objective function,

maybe it’s a mechanism for creating objective functions.

It’s a mechanism for creating knowledge bases, for example,

that can then be queried.

Like maybe it’s like an efficient representation

of knowledge that’s learned in a gradient based way

or something like that.

Well, so I think there is a lot of different types

of intelligence.

So first of all, I think the type of logical reasoning

that we think about that we are maybe stemming

from sort of classical AI of the 1970s and 80s.

I think humans use that relatively rarely

and are not particularly good at it.

But we judge each other based on our ability

to solve those rare problems.

It’s called an IQ test.

I don’t think so.

Like I’m not very good at chess.

Yes, I’m judging you this whole time.

Because, well, we actually.

With your heritage, I’m sure you’re good at chess.

No, stereotypes.

Not all stereotypes are true.

Well, I’m terrible at chess.

So, but I think perhaps another type of intelligence

that I have is this ability of sort of building models

to the world from reasoning obviously,

but also data.

And those models generally are more kind of analogical.

So it’s reasoning by simulation,

and by analogy, where you use one model

to apply to a new situation.

Even though you’ve never seen that situation,

you can sort of connect it to a situation

you’ve encountered before.

And your reasoning is more akin

to some sort of internal simulation.

So you’re kind of simulating what’s happening

when you’re building, I don’t know,

a box out of wood or something, right?

You can imagine in advance what would be the result

of cutting the wood in this particular way.

Are you going to use screws or nails or whatever?

When you are interacting with someone,

you also have a model of that person

and sort of interact with that person,

having this model in mind to kind of tell the person

what you think is useful to them.

So I think this ability to construct models to the world

is basically the essence, the essence of intelligence.

And the ability to use it then to plan actions

that will fulfill a particular criterion,

of course, is necessary as well.

So I’m going to ask you a series of impossible questions

as we keep asking, as I’ve been doing.

So if that’s the fundamental sort of dark matter

of intelligence, this ability to form a background model,

what’s your intuition about how much knowledge is required?

You know, I think dark matter,

you could put a percentage on it

of the composition of the universe

and how much of it is dark matter,

how much of it is dark energy,

how much information do you think is required

to be a house cat?

So you have to be able to, when you see a box going in,

when you see a human compute the most evil action,

if there’s a thing that’s near an edge,

you knock it off, all of that,

plus the extra stuff you mentioned,

which is a great self awareness of the physics

of your own body and the world.

How much knowledge is required, do you think, to solve it?

I don’t even know how to measure an answer to that question.

I’m not sure how to measure it,

but whatever it is, it fits in about 800,000 neurons,

800 million neurons.

What’s the representation does?

Everything, all knowledge, everything, right?

You know, it’s less than a billion.

A dog is 2 billion, but a cat is less than 1 billion.

And so multiply that by a thousand

and you get the number of synapses.

And I think almost all of it is learned

through this, you know, a sort of self supervised running,

although, you know, I think a tiny sliver

is learned through reinforcement running

and certainly very little through, you know,

classical supervised running,

although it’s not even clear how supervised running

actually works in the biological world.

So I think almost all of it is self supervised running,

but it’s driven by the sort of ingrained objective functions

that a cat or a human have at the base of their brain,

which kind of drives their behavior.

So, you know, nature tells us you’re hungry.

It doesn’t tell us how to feed ourselves.

That’s something that the rest of our brain

has to figure out, right?

What’s interesting is there might be more

like deeper objective functions

than allowing the whole thing.

So hunger may be some kind of,

now you go to like neurobiology,

it might be just the brain trying to maintain homeostasis.

So hunger is just one of the human perceivable symptoms

of the brain being unhappy

with the way things are currently.

It could be just like one really dumb objective function

at the core.

But that’s how behavior is driven.

The fact that, you know, or basal ganglia

drive us to do things that are different

from say an orangutan or certainly a cat

is what makes, you know, human nature

versus orangutan nature versus cat nature.

So for example, you know, our basal ganglia

drives us to seek the company of other humans.

And that’s because nature has figured out

that we need to be social animals for our species to survive.

And it’s true of many primates.

It’s not true of orangutans.

Orangutans are solitary animals.

They don’t seek the company of others.

In fact, they avoid them.

In fact, they scream at them when they come too close

because they’re territorial.

Because for their survival, you know,

evolution has figured out that’s the best thing.

I mean, they’re occasionally social, of course,

for, you know, reproduction and stuff like that.

But they’re mostly solitary.

So all of those behaviors are not part of intelligence.

You know, people say,

oh, you’re never gonna have intelligent machines

because, you know, human intelligence is social.

But then you look at orangutans, you look at octopus.

Octopus never know their parents.

They barely interact with any other.

And they get to be really smart in less than a year,

in like half a year.

You know, in a year, they’re adults.

In two years, they’re dead.

So there are things that we think, as humans,

are intimately linked with intelligence,

like social interaction, like language.

We think, I think we give way too much importance

to language as a substrate of intelligence as humans.

Because we think our reasoning is so linked with language.

So to solve the house cat intelligence problem,

you think you could do it on a desert island.

You could have, you could just have a cat sitting there

looking at the waves, at the ocean waves,

and figure a lot of it out.

It needs to have sort of, you know,

the right set of drives to kind of, you know,

get it to do the thing and learn the appropriate things,

right, but like for example, you know,

baby humans are driven to learn to stand up and walk.

You know, that’s kind of, this desire is hardwired.

How to do it precisely is not, that’s learned.

But the desire to walk, move around and stand up,

that’s sort of probably hardwired.

But it’s very simple to hardwire this kind of stuff.

Oh, like the desire to, well, that’s interesting.

You’re hardwired to want to walk.

That’s not, there’s gotta be a deeper need for walking.

I think it was probably socially imposed by society

that you need to walk all the other bipedal.

No, like a lot of simple animals that, you know,

will probably walk without ever watching

any other members of the species.

It seems like a scary thing to have to do

because you suck at bipedal walking at first.

It seems crawling is much safer, much more like,

why are you in a hurry?

Well, because you have this thing that drives you to do it,

you know, which is sort of part of the sort of

human development.

Is that understood actually what?

Not entirely, no.

What’s the reason you get on two feet?

It’s really hard.

Like most animals don’t get on two feet.

Well, they get on four feet.

You know, many mammals get on four feet.

Yeah, they do. Very quickly.

Some of them extremely quickly.

But I don’t, you know, like from the last time

I’ve interacted with a table,

that’s much more stable than a thing than two legs.

It’s just a really hard problem.

Yeah, I mean, birds have figured it out with two feet.

Well, technically we can go into ontology.

They have four, I guess they have two feet.

They have two feet.


You know, dinosaurs have two feet, many of them.


I’m just now learning that T. rex was eating grass,

not other animals.

T. rex might’ve been a friendly pet.

What do you think about,

I don’t know if you looked at the test

for general intelligence that François Chollet put together.

I don’t know if you got a chance to look

at that kind of thing.

What’s your intuition about how to solve

like an IQ type of test?

I don’t know.

I think it’s so outside of my radar screen

that it’s not really relevant, I think, in the short term.

Well, I guess one way to ask,

another way, perhaps more closer to what do you work is like,

how do you solve MNIST with very little example data?

That’s right.

And that’s the answer to this probably

is self supervised learning.

Just learn to represent images

and then learning to recognize handwritten digits

on top of this will only require a few samples.

And we observe this in humans, right?

You show a young child a picture book

with a couple of pictures of an elephant and that’s it.

The child knows what an elephant is.

And we see this today with practical systems

that we train image recognition systems

with enormous amounts of images,

either completely self supervised

or very weakly supervised.

For example, you can train a neural net

to predict whatever hashtag people type on Instagram, right?

Then you can do this with billions of images

because there’s billions per day that are showing up.

So the amount of training data there

is essentially unlimited.

And then you take the output representation,

a couple of layers down from the outputs

of what the system learned and feed this as input

to a classifier for any object in the world that you want

and it works pretty well.

So that’s transfer learning, okay?

Or weakly supervised transfer learning.

People are making very, very fast progress

using self supervised learning

for this kind of scenario as well.

And my guess is that that’s gonna be the future.

For self supervised learning,

how much cleaning do you think is needed

for filtering malicious signal or what’s a better term?

But like a lot of people use hashtags on Instagram

to get like good SEO that doesn’t fully represent

the contents of the image.

Like they’ll put a picture of a cat

and hashtag it with like science, awesome, fun.

I don’t know all kinds, why would you put science?

That’s not very good SEO.

The way my colleagues who worked on this project

at Facebook, now Meta AI, a few years ago dealt with this

is that they only selected something like 17,000 tags

that correspond to kind of physical things or situations,

like that has some visual content.

So you wouldn’t have like hash TBT or anything like that.

Oh, so they keep a very select set of hashtags

is what you’re saying?



But it’s still in the order of 10 to 20,000.

So it’s fairly large.


Can you tell me about data augmentation?

What the heck is data augmentation and how is it used

maybe contrast of learning for video?

What are some cool ideas here?

Right, so data augmentation.

I mean, first data augmentation is the idea

of artificially increasing the size of your training set

by distorting the images that you have

in ways that don’t change the nature of the image, right?

So you do MNIST, you can do data augmentation on MNIST

and people have done this since the 1990s, right?

You take a MNIST digit and you shift it a little bit

or you change the size or rotate it, skew it,

you know, et cetera.

Add noise.

Add noise, et cetera.

And it works better if you train a supervised classifier

with augmented data, you’re gonna get better results.

Now it’s become really interesting

over the last couple of years

because a lot of self supervised learning techniques

to pre train vision systems are based on data augmentation.

And the basic techniques is originally inspired

by techniques that I worked on in the early 90s

and Jeff Hinton worked on also in the early 90s.

They were sort of parallel work.

I used to call this Siamese network.

So basically you take two identical copies

of the same network, they share the same weights

and you show two different views of the same object.

Either those two different views may have been obtained

by data augmentation

or maybe it’s two different views of the same scene

from a camera that you moved or at different times

or something like that, right?

Or two pictures of the same person, things like that.

And then you train this neural net,

those two identical copies of this neural net

to produce an output representation, a vector

in such a way that the representation for those two images

are as close to each other as possible,

as identical to each other as possible, right?

Because you want the system

to basically learn a function that will be invariant,

that will not change, whose output will not change

when you transform those inputs in those particular ways,


So that’s easy to do.

What’s complicated is how do you make sure

that when you show two images that are different,

the system will produce different things?

Because if you don’t have a specific provision for this,

the system will just ignore the inputs when you train it,

it will end up ignoring the input

and just produce a constant vector

that is the same for every input, right?

That’s called a collapse.

Now, how do you avoid collapse?

So there’s two ideas.

One idea that I proposed in the early 90s

with my colleagues at Bell Labs,

Jane Barmley and a couple other people,

which we now call contrastive learning,

which is to have negative examples, right?

So you have pairs of images that you know are different

and you show them to the network and those two copies,

and then you push the two output vectors away

from each other and it will eventually guarantee

that things that are semantically similar

produce similar representations

and things that are different

produce different representations.

We actually came up with this idea

for a project of doing signature verification.

So we would collect signatures from,

like multiple signatures on the same person

and then train a neural net to produce the same representation

and then force the system to produce different

representation for different signatures.

This was actually, the problem was proposed by people

from what was a subsidiary of AT&T at the time called NCR.

And they were interested in storing

representation of the signature on the 80 bytes

of the magnetic strip of a credit card.

So we came up with this idea of having a neural net

with 80 outputs that we would quantize on bytes

so that we could encode the signature.

And that encoding was then used to compare

whether the signature matches or not.

That’s right.

So then you would sign, you would run through the neural net

and then you would compare the output vector

to whatever is stored on your card.

Did it actually work?

It worked, but they ended up not using it.

Because nobody cares actually.

I mean, the American financial payment system

is incredibly lax in that respect compared to Europe.

Oh, with the signatures?

What’s the purpose of signatures anyway?

This is very different.

Nobody looks at them, nobody cares.

It’s, yeah.

Yeah, no, so that’s contrastive learning, right?

So you need positive and negative pairs.

And the problem with that is that,

even though I had the original paper on this,

I’m actually not very positive about it

because it doesn’t work in high dimension.

If your representation is high dimensional,

there’s just too many ways for two things to be different.

And so you would need lots and lots

and lots of negative pairs.

So there is a particular implementation of this,

which is relatively recent from actually

the Google Toronto group where, you know,

Jeff Hinton is the senior member there.

It’s called SIMCLR, S I M C L R.

And it, you know, basically a particular way

of implementing this idea of contrastive learning,

the particular objective function.

Now, what I’m much more enthusiastic about these days

is non contrastive methods.

So other ways to guarantee that the representations

would be different for different inputs.

And it’s actually based on an idea that Jeff Hinton

proposed in the early nineties with his student

at the time, Sue Becker.

And it’s based on the idea of maximizing

the mutual information between the outputs

of the two systems.

You only show positive pairs.

You only show pairs of images that you know

are somewhat similar.

And you train the two networks to be informative,

but also to be as informative of each other as possible.

So basically one representation has to be predictable

from the other, essentially.

And, you know, he proposed that idea,

had, you know, a couple of papers in the early nineties,

and then nothing was done about it for decades.

And I kind of revived this idea together

with my postdocs at FAIR,

particularly a postdoc called Stefan Denis,

who is now a junior professor in Finland

at University of Aalto.

We came up with something that we call Barlow Twins.

And it’s a particular way of maximizing

the information content of a vector,

you know, using some hypotheses.

And we have kind of another version of it

that’s more recent now called VICREG, V I C A R E G.

That means Variance, Invariance, Covariance,


And it’s the thing I’m the most excited about

in machine learning in the last 15 years.

I mean, I’m not, I’m really, really excited about this.

What kind of data augmentation is useful

for that noncontrastive learning method?

Are we talking about, does that not matter that much?

Or it seems like a very important part of the step.


How you generate the images that are similar,

but sufficiently different.

Yeah, that’s right.

It’s an important step and it’s also an annoying step

because you need to have that knowledge

of what data augmentation you can do

that do not change the nature of the object.

And so the standard scenario,

which a lot of people working in this area are using

is you use the type of distortion.

So basically you do a geometric distortion.

So one basically just shifts the image a little bit,

it’s called cropping.

Another one kind of changes the scale a little bit.

Another one kind of rotates it.

Another one changes the colors.

You can do a shift in color balance

or something like that, saturation.

Another one sort of blurs it.

Another one adds noise.

So you have like a catalog of kind of standard things

and people try to use the same ones

for different algorithms so that they can compare.

But some algorithms, some self supervised algorithm

actually can deal with much bigger,

like more aggressive data augmentation and some don’t.

So that kind of makes the whole thing difficult.

But that’s the kind of distortions we’re talking about.

And so you train with those distortions

and then you chop off the last layer, a couple layers

of the network and you use the representation

as input to a classifier.

You train the classifier on ImageNet, let’s say,

or whatever, and measure the performance.

And interestingly enough, the methods that are really good

at eliminating the information that is irrelevant,

which is the distortions between those images,

do a good job at eliminating it.

And as a consequence, you cannot use the representations

in those systems for things like object detection

and localization because that information is gone.

So the type of data augmentation you need to do

depends on the tasks you want eventually the system

to solve and the type of data augmentation,

standard data augmentation that we use today

are only appropriate for object recognition

or image classification.

They’re not appropriate for things like.

Can you help me out understand what wide localizations?

So you’re saying it’s just not good at the negative,

like at classifying the negative,

so that’s why it can’t be used for the localization?

No, it’s just that you train the system,

you give it an image and then you give it the same image

shifted and scaled and you tell it that’s the same image.

So the system basically is trained

to eliminate the information about position and size.

So now you want to use that to figure out

where an object is and what size it is.

Like a bounding box, like they’d be able to actually.

Okay, it can still find the object in the image,

it’s just not very good at finding

the exact boundaries of that object, interesting.

Interesting, which that’s an interesting

sort of philosophical question,

how important is object localization anyway?

We’re like obsessed by measuring image segmentation,

obsessed by measuring perfectly knowing

the boundaries of objects when arguably

that’s not that essential to understanding

what are the contents of the scene.

On the other hand, I think evolutionarily,

the first vision systems in animals

were basically all about localization,

very little about recognition.

And in the human brain, you have two separate pathways

for recognizing the nature of a scene or an object

and localizing objects.

So you use the first pathway called eventual pathway

for telling what you’re looking at.

The other pathway, the dorsal pathway,

is used for navigation, for grasping, for everything else.

And basically a lot of the things you need for survival

are localization and detection.

Is similarity learning or contrastive learning,

are these non contrastive methods

the same as understanding something?

Just because you know a distorted cat

is the same as a non distorted cat,

does that mean you understand what it means to be a cat?

To some extent.

I mean, it’s a superficial understanding, obviously.

But what is the ceiling of this method, do you think?

Is this just one trick on the path

to doing self supervised learning?

Can we go really, really far?

I think we can go really far.

So if we figure out how to use techniques of that type,

perhaps very different, but the same nature,

to train a system from video to do video prediction,

essentially, I think we’ll have a path towards,

I wouldn’t say unlimited, but a path towards some level

of physical common sense in machines.

And I also think that that ability to learn

how the world works from a sort of high throughput channel

like vision is a necessary step towards

sort of real artificial intelligence.

In other words, I believe in grounded intelligence.

I don’t think we can train a machine

to be intelligent purely from text.

Because I think the amount of information about the world

that’s contained in text is tiny compared

to what we need to know.

So for example, and people have attempted to do this

for 30 years, the psych project and things like that,

basically kind of writing down all the facts that are known

and hoping that some sort of common sense will emerge.

I think it’s basically hopeless.

But let me take an example.

You take an object, I describe a situation to you.

I take an object, I put it on the table

and I push the table.

It’s completely obvious to you that the object

will be pushed with the table,

because it’s sitting on it.

There’s no text in the world, I believe, that explains this.

And so if you train a machine as powerful as it could be,

your GPT 5000 or whatever it is,

it’s never gonna learn about this.

That information is just not present in any text.

Well, the question, like with the psych project,

the dream I think is to have like 10 million,

say facts like that, that give you a headstart,

like a parent guiding you.

Now, we humans don’t need a parent to tell us

that the table will move, sorry,

the smartphone will move with the table.

But we get a lot of guidance in other ways.

So it’s possible that we can give it a quick shortcut.

What about a cat?

The cat knows that.

No, but they evolved, so.

No, they learn like us.

Sorry, the physics of stuff?


Well, yeah, so you’re saying it’s,

so you’re putting a lot of intelligence

onto the nurture side, not the nature.


We seem to have, you know,

there’s a very inefficient arguably process of evolution

that got us from bacteria to who we are today.

Started at the bottom, now we’re here.

So the question is how, okay,

the question is how fundamental is that,

the nature of the whole hardware?

And then is there any way to shortcut it

if it’s fundamental?

If it’s not, if it’s most of intelligence,

most of the cool stuff we’ve been talking about

is mostly nurture, mostly trained.

We figure it out by observing the world.

We can form that big, beautiful, sexy background model

that you’re talking about just by sitting there.

Then, okay, then you need to, then like maybe,

it is all supervised learning all the way down.

Self supervised learning, say.

Whatever it is that makes, you know,

human intelligence different from other animals,

which, you know, a lot of people think is language

and logical reasoning and this kind of stuff.

It cannot be that complicated because it only popped up

in the last million years.


And, you know, it only involves, you know,

less than 1% of our genome might be,

which is the difference between human genome

and chimps or whatever.

So it can’t be that complicated.

You know, it can’t be that fundamental.

I mean, most of the complicated stuff

already exists in cats and dogs and, you know,

certainly primates, nonhuman primates.

Yeah, that little thing with humans

might be just something about social interaction

and ability to maintain ideas

across like a collective of people.

It sounds very dramatic and very impressive,

but it probably isn’t mechanistically speaking.

It is, but we’re not there yet.

Like, you know, we have, I mean, this is number 634,

you know, in the list of problems we have to solve.

So basic physics of the world is number one.

What do you, just a quick tangent on data augmentation.

So a lot of it is hard coded versus learned.

Do you have any intuition that maybe

there could be some weird data augmentation,

like generative type of data augmentation,

like doing something weird to images,

which then improves the similarity learning process?

So not just kind of dumb, simple distortions,

but by you shaking your head,

just saying that even simple distortions are enough.

I think, no, I think data augmentation

is a temporary necessary evil.

So what people are working on now is two things.

One is the type of self supervised learning,

like trying to translate the type of self supervised learning

people use in language, translating these two images,

which is basically a denoising autoencoder method, right?

So you take an image, you block, you mask some parts of it,

and then you train some giant neural net

to reconstruct the parts that are missing.

And until very recently,

there was no working methods for that.

All the autoencoder type methods for images

weren’t producing very good representation,

but there’s a paper now coming out of the fair group

at MNL Park that actually works very well.

So that doesn’t require data augmentation,

that requires only masking, okay.

Only masking for images, okay.

Right, so you mask part of the image

and you train a system, which in this case is a transformer

because the transformer represents the image

as non overlapping patches,

so it’s easy to mask patches and things like that.

Okay, but then my question transfers to that problem,

the masking, like why should the mask be square or rectangle?

So it doesn’t matter, like, you know,

I think we’re gonna come up probably in the future

with sort of ways to mask that are kind of random,

essentially, I mean, they are random already, but.

No, no, but like something that’s challenging,

like optimally challenging.

So like, I mean, maybe it’s a metaphor that doesn’t apply,

but you’re, it seems like there’s a data augmentation

or masking, there’s an interactive element with it.

Like you’re almost like playing with an image.

And like, it’s like the way we play with an image

in our minds.

No, but it’s like dropout.

It’s like Boston machine training.

You, you know, every time you see a percept,

you also, you can perturb it in some way.

And then the principle of the training procedure

is to minimize the difference of the output

or the representation between the clean version

and the corrupted version, essentially, right?

And you can do this in real time, right?

So, you know, Boston machine work like this, right?

You show a percept, you tell the machine

that’s a good combination of activities

or your input neurons.

And then you either let them go their merry way

without clamping them to values,

or you only do this with a subset.

And what you’re doing is you’re training the system

so that the stable state of the entire network

is the same regardless of whether it sees

the entire input or whether it sees only part of it.

You know, denoising autoencoder method

is basically the same thing, right?

You’re training a system to reproduce the input,

the complete inputs and filling the input

and filling the blanks, regardless of which parts

are missing, and that’s really the underlying principle.

And you could imagine sort of, even in the brain,

some sort of neural principle where, you know,

neurons kind of oscillate, right?

So they take their activity and then temporarily

they kind of shut off to, you know,

force the rest of the system to basically reconstruct

the input without their help, you know?

And, I mean, you could imagine, you know,

more or less biologically possible processes.

Something like that.

And I guess with this denoising autoencoder

and masking and data augmentation,

you don’t have to worry about being super efficient.

You could just do as much as you want

and get better over time.

Because I was thinking, like, you might want to be clever

about the way you do all these procedures, you know,

but that’s only, it’s somehow costly to do every iteration,

but it’s not really.

Not really.


And then there is, you know,

data augmentation without explicit data augmentation.

This data augmentation by weighting,

which is, you know, the sort of video prediction.

You’re observing a video clip,

observing the, you know, the continuation of that video clip.

You try to learn a representation

using dual joint embedding architectures

in such a way that the representation of the future clip

is easily predictable from the representation

of the observed clip.

Do you think YouTube has enough raw data

from which to learn how to be a cat?

I think so.

So the amount of data is not the constraint.

No, it would require some selection, I think.

Some selection?

Some selection of, you know, maybe the right type of data.

You need some.

Don’t go down the rabbit hole of just cat videos.

You might need to watch some lectures or something.

No, you wouldn’t.

How meta would that be

if it like watches lectures about intelligence

and then learns,

watches your lectures in NYU

and learns from that how to be intelligent?

I don’t think that would be enough.

What’s your, do you find multimodal learning interesting?

We’ve been talking about visual language,

like combining those together,

maybe audio, all those kinds of things.

There’s a lot of things that I find interesting

in the short term,

but are not addressing the important problem

that I think are really kind of the big challenges.

So I think, you know, things like multitask learning,

continual learning, you know, adversarial issues.

I mean, those have great practical interests

in the relatively short term, possibly,

but I don’t think they’re fundamental.

You know, active learning,

even to some extent, reinforcement learning.

I think those things will become either obsolete

or useless or easy

once we figured out how to do self supervised

representation learning

or learning predictive world models.

And so I think that’s what, you know,

the entire community should be focusing on.

At least people who are interested

in sort of fundamental questions

or, you know, really kind of pushing the envelope

of AI towards the next stage.

But of course, there’s like a huge amount of,

you know, very interesting work to do

in sort of practical questions

that have, you know, short term impact.

Well, you know, it’s difficult to talk about

the temporal scale,

because all of human civilization

will eventually be destroyed

because the sun will die out.

And even if Elon Musk is successful

in multi planetary colonization across the galaxy,

eventually the entirety of it

will just become giant black holes.

And that’s gonna take a while though.

So, but what I’m saying is then that logic

can be used to say it’s all meaningless.

I’m saying all that to say that multitask learning

might be, you’re calling it practical

or pragmatic or whatever.

That might be the thing that achieves something

very akin to intelligence

while we’re trying to solve the more general problem

of self supervised learning of background knowledge.

So the reason I bring that up,

maybe one way to ask that question.

I’ve been very impressed

by what Tesla Autopilot team is doing.

I don’t know if you’ve gotten a chance to glance

at this particular one example of multitask learning,

where they’re literally taking the problem,

like, I don’t know, Charles Darwin studying animals.

They’re studying the problem of driving

and asking, okay, what are all the things

you have to perceive?

And the way they’re solving it is one,

there’s an ontology where you’re bringing that to the table.

So you’re formulating a bunch of different tasks.

It’s like over a hundred tasks or something like that

that they’re involved in driving.

And then they’re deploying it

and then getting data back from people that run into trouble

and they’re trying to figure out, do we add tasks?

Do we, like, we focus on each individual task separately?

In fact, I would say,

I would classify Andre Karpathy’s talk in two ways.

So one was about doors

and the other one about how much ImageNet sucks.

He kept going back and forth on those two topics,

which ImageNet sucks,

meaning you can’t just use a single benchmark.

There’s so, like, you have to have like a giant suite

of benchmarks to understand how well your system actually works.

Oh, I agree with him.

I mean, he’s a very sensible guy.

Now, okay, it’s very clear that if you’re faced

with an engineering problem that you need to solve

in a relatively short time,

particularly if you have Elon Musk breathing down your neck,

you’re going to have to take shortcuts, right?

You might think about the fact that the right thing to do

and the longterm solution involves, you know,

some fancy self supervised running,

but you have, you know, Elon Musk breathing down your neck

and, you know, this involves, you know, human lives.

And so you have to basically just do

the systematic engineering and, you know,

fine tuning and refinements

and trial and error and all that stuff.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

That’s called engineering.

That’s called, you know, putting technology out in the world.

And you have to kind of ironclad it before you do this,

you know, so much for, you know,

grand ideas and principles.

But, you know, I’m placing myself sort of, you know,

some, you know, upstream of this, you know,

quite a bit upstream of this.

You’re a Plato, think about platonic forms.

You’re not platonic because eventually

I want that stuff to get used,

but it’s okay if it takes five or 10 years

for the community to realize this is the right thing to do.

I’ve done this before.

It’s been the case before that, you know,

I’ve made that case.

I mean, if you look back in the mid 2000, for example,

and you ask yourself the question, okay,

I want to recognize cars or faces or whatever,

you know, I can use convolutional net.

So I can use sort of more conventional

kind of computer vision techniques, you know,

using interest point detectors or assist density features

and, you know, sticking an SVM on top.

At that time, the datasets were so small

that those methods that use more hand engineering

worked better than ConvNets.

It was just not enough data for ConvNets

and ConvNets were a little slow with the kind of hardware

that was available at the time.

And there was a sea change when, basically,

when, you know, datasets became bigger

and GPUs became available.

That’s what, you know, two of the main factors

that basically made people change their mind.

And you can look at the history of,

like, all sub branches of AI or pattern recognition.

And there’s a similar trajectory followed by techniques

where people start by, you know, engineering the hell out of it.

You know, be it optical character recognition,

speech recognition, computer vision,

like image recognition in general,

natural language understanding, like, you know, translation,

things like that, right?

You start to engineer the hell out of it.

You start to acquire all the knowledge,

the prior knowledge you know about image formation,

about, you know, the shape of characters,

about, you know, morphological operations,

about, like, feature extraction, Fourier transforms,

you know, vernicke moments, you know, whatever, right?

People have come up with thousands of ways

of representing images

so that they could be easily classified afterwards.

Same for speech recognition, right?

There is, you know, it took decades

for people to figure out a good front end

to preprocess speech signals

so that, you know, all the information

about what is being said is preserved,

but most of the information

about the identity of the speaker is gone.

You know, kestrel coefficients or whatever, right?

And same for text, right?

You do named entity recognition and you parse

and you do tagging of the parts of speech

and, you know, you do this sort of tree representation

of clauses and all that stuff, right?

Before you can do anything.

So that’s how it starts, right?

Just engineer the hell out of it.

And then you start having data

and maybe you have more powerful computers.

Maybe you know something about statistical learning.

So you start using machine learning

and it’s usually a small sliver

on top of your kind of handcrafted system

where, you know, you extract features by hand.

Okay, and now, you know, nowadays the standard way

of doing this is that you train the entire thing end to end

with a deep learning system and it learns its own features

and, you know, speech recognition systems nowadays

or CR systems are completely end to end.

It’s, you know, it’s some giant neural net

that takes raw waveforms

and produces a sequence of characters coming out.

And it’s just a huge neural net, right?

There’s no, you know, Markov model,

there’s no language model that is explicit

other than, you know, something that’s ingrained

in the sort of neural language model, if you want.

Same for translation, same for all kinds of stuff.

So you see this continuous evolution

from, you know, less and less hand crafting

and more and more learning.

And I think, I mean, it’s true in biology as well.

So, I mean, we might disagree about this,

maybe not, this one little piece at the end,

you mentioned active learning.

It feels like active learning,

which is the selection of data

and also the interactivity needs to be part

of this giant neural network.

You cannot just be an observer

to do self supervised learning.

You have to, well, I don’t,

self supervised learning is just a word,

but I would, whatever this giant stack

of a neural network that’s automatically learning,

it feels, my intuition is that you have to have a system,

whether it’s a physical robot or a digital robot,

that’s interacting with the world

and doing so in a flawed way and improving over time

in order to form the self supervised learning.

Well, you can’t just give it a giant sea of data.

Okay, I agree and I disagree.

I agree in the sense that I think, I agree in two ways.

The first way I agree is that if you want,

and you certainly need a causal model of the world

that allows you to predict the consequences

of your actions, to train that model,

you need to take actions, right?

You need to be able to act in a world

and see the effect for you to be,

to learn causal models of the world.

So that’s not obvious because you can observe others.

You can observe others.

And you can infer that they’re similar to you

and then you can learn from that.

Yeah, but then you have to kind of hardwire that part,

right, and then, you know, mirror neurons

and all that stuff, right?

So, and it’s not clear to me

how you would do this in a machine.

So I think the action part would be necessary

for having causal models of the world.

The second reason it may be necessary,

or at least more efficient,

is that active learning basically, you know,

goes for the jugular of what you don’t know, right?

Is, you know, obvious areas of uncertainty

about your world and about how the world behaves.

And you can resolve this uncertainty

by systematic exploration of that part

that you don’t know.

And if you know that you don’t know,

then, you know, it makes you curious.

You kind of look into situations that,

and, you know, across the animal world,

different species have different levels of curiosity,

right, depending on how they’re built, right?

So, you know, cats and rats are incredibly curious,

dogs not so much, I mean, less.

Yeah, so it could be useful

to have that kind of curiosity.

So it’d be useful,

but curiosity just makes the process faster.

It doesn’t make the process exist.

The, so what process, what learning process is it

that active learning makes more efficient?

And I’m asking that first question, you know,

you know, we haven’t answered that question yet.

So, you know, I worry about active learning

once this question is…

So it’s the more fundamental question to ask.

And if active learning or interaction

increases the efficiency of the learning,

see, sometimes it becomes very different

if the increase is several orders of magnitude, right?


That’s true.

But fundamentally it’s still the same thing

and building up the intuition about how to,

in a self supervised way to construct background models,

efficient or inefficient, is the core problem.

What do you think about Yoshua Bengio’s

talking about consciousness

and all of these kinds of concepts?

Okay, I don’t know what consciousness is, but…

It’s a good opener.

And to some extent, a lot of the things

that are said about consciousness

remind me of the questions people were asking themselves

in the 18th century or 17th century

when they discovered that, you know, how the eye works

and the fact that the image at the back of the eye

was upside down, right?

Because you have a lens.

And so on your retina, the image that forms is an image

of the world, but it’s upside down.

How is it that you see right side up?

And, you know, with what we know today in science,

you know, we realize this question doesn’t make any sense

or is kind of ridiculous in some way, right?

So I think a lot of what is said about consciousness

is of that nature.

Now, that said, there is a lot of really smart people

that for whom I have a lot of respect

who are talking about this topic,

people like David Chalmers, who is a colleague of mine at NYU.

I have kind of an orthodox folk speculative hypothesis

about consciousness.

So we’re talking about the study of a world model.

And I think, you know, our entire prefrontal cortex

basically is the engine for a world model.

But when we are attending at a particular situation,

we’re focused on that situation.

We basically cannot attend to anything else.

And that seems to suggest that we basically have

only one world model engine in our prefrontal cortex.

That engine is configurable to the situation at hand.

So we are building a box out of wood,

or we are driving down the highway playing chess.

We basically have a single model of the world

that we configure into the situation at hand,

which is why we can only attend to one task at a time.

Now, if there is a task that we do repeatedly,

it goes from the sort of deliberate reasoning

using model of the world and prediction

and perhaps something like model predictive control,

which I was talking about earlier,

to something that is more subconscious

that becomes automatic.

So I don’t know if you’ve ever played

against a chess grandmaster.

I get wiped out in 10 plays, right?

And I have to think about my move for like 15 minutes.

And the person in front of me, the grandmaster,

would just react within seconds, right?

He doesn’t need to think about it.

That’s become part of the subconscious

because it’s basically just pattern recognition

at this point.

Same, the first few hours you drive a car,

you are really attentive, you can’t do anything else.

And then after 20, 30 hours of practice, 50 hours,

the subconscious, you can talk to the person next to you,

things like that, right?

Unless the situation becomes unpredictable

and then you have to stop talking.

So that suggests you only have one model in your head.

And it might suggest the idea that consciousness

basically is the module that configures

this world model of yours.

You need to have some sort of executive kind of overseer

that configures your world model for the situation at hand.

And that leads to kind of the really curious concept

that consciousness is not a consequence

of the power of our minds,

but of the limitation of our brains.

That because we have only one world model,

we have to be conscious.

If we had as many world models

as situations we encounter,

then we could do all of them simultaneously

and we wouldn’t need this sort of executive control

that we call consciousness.

Yeah, interesting.

And somehow maybe that executive controller,

I mean, the hard problem of consciousness,

there’s some kind of chemicals in biology

that’s creating a feeling,

like it feels to experience some of these things.

That’s kind of like the hard question is,

what the heck is that and why is that useful?

Maybe the more pragmatic question,

why is it useful to feel like this is really you

experiencing this versus just like information

being processed?

It could be just a very nice side effect

of the way we evolved.

That’s just very useful to feel a sense of ownership

to the decisions you make, to the perceptions you make,

to the model you’re trying to maintain.

Like you own this thing and this is the only one you got

and if you lose it, it’s gonna really suck.

And so you should really send the brain

some signals about it.

So what ideas do you believe might be true

that most or at least many people disagree with?

Let’s say in the space of machine learning.

Well, it depends who you talk about,

but I think, so certainly there is a bunch of people

who are nativists, right?

Who think that a lot of the basic things about the world

are kind of hardwired in our minds.

Things like the world is three dimensional, for example,

is that hardwired?

Things like object permanence,

is this something that we learn

before the age of three months or so?

Or are we born with it?

And there are very wide disagreements

among the cognitive scientists for this.

I think those things are actually very simple to learn.

Is it the case that the oriented edge detectors in V1

are learned or are they hardwired?

I think they are learned.

They might be learned before both

because it’s really easy to generate signals

from the retina that actually will train edge detectors.

And again, those are things that can be learned

within minutes of opening your eyes, right?

I mean, since the 1990s,

we have algorithms that can learn oriented edge detectors

completely unsupervised

with the equivalent of a few minutes of real time.

So those things have to be learned.

And there’s also those MIT experiments

where you kind of plug the optical nerve

on the auditory cortex of a baby ferret, right?

And that auditory cortex

becomes a visual cortex essentially.

So clearly there’s learning taking place there.

So I think a lot of what people think are so basic

that they need to be hardwired,

I think a lot of those things are learned

because they are easy to learn.

So you put a lot of value in the power of learning.

What kind of things do you suspect might not be learned?

Is there something that could not be learned?

So your intrinsic drives are not learned.

There are the things that make humans human

or make cats different from dogs, right?

It’s the basic drives that are kind of hardwired

in our basal ganglia.

I mean, there are people who are working

on this kind of stuff that’s called intrinsic motivation

in the context of reinforcement learning.

So these are objective functions

where the reward doesn’t come from the external world.

It’s computed by your own brain.

Your own brain computes whether you’re happy or not, right?

It measures your degree of comfort or in comfort.

And because it’s your brain computing this,

presumably it knows also how to estimate

gradients of this, right?

So it’s easier to learn when your objective is intrinsic.

So that has to be hardwired.

The critic that makes longterm prediction of the outcome,

which is the eventual result of this, that’s learned.

And perception is learned

and your model of the world is learned.

But let me take an example of why the critic,

I mean, an example of how the critic may be learned, right?

If I come to you, I reach across the table

and I pinch your arm, right?

Complete surprise for you.

You would not have expected this from me.

I was expecting that the whole time, but yes, right.

Let’s say for the sake of the story, yes.

So, okay, your basal ganglia is gonna light up

because it’s gonna hurt, right?

And now your model of the world includes the fact that

I may pinch you if I approach my…

Don’t trust humans.

Right, my hand to your arm.

So if I try again, you’re gonna recoil.

And that’s your critic, your predictive,

your predictor of your ultimate pain system

that predicts that something bad is gonna happen

and you recoil to avoid it.

So even that can be learned.

That is learned, definitely.

This is what allows you also to define some goals, right?

So the fact that you’re a school child,

you wake up in the morning and you go to school

and it’s not because you necessarily like waking up early

and going to school,

but you know that there is a long term objective

you’re trying to optimize.

So Ernest Becker, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with him,

the philosopher, he wrote the book Denial of Death

and his idea is that one of the core motivations

of human beings is our terror of death, our fear of death.

That’s what makes us unique from cats.

Cats are just surviving.

They do not have a deep, like a cognizance introspection

that over the horizon is the end.

And then he says that, I mean,

there’s a terror management theory

that just all these psychological experiments

that show basically this idea

that all of human civilization, everything we create

is kind of trying to forget if even for a brief moment

that we’re going to die.

When do you think humans understand

that they’re going to die?

Is it learned early on also?

I don’t know at what point.

I mean, it’s a question like at what point

do you realize that what death really is?

And I think most people don’t actually realize

what death is, right?

I mean, most people believe that you go to heaven

or something, right?

So to push back on that, what Ernest Becker says

and Sheldon Solomon, all of those folks,

and I find those ideas a little bit compelling

is that there is moments in life, early in life,

a lot of this fun happens early in life

when you do deeply experience

the terror of this realization.

And all the things you think about about religion,

all those kinds of things that we kind of think about

more like teenage years and later,

we’re talking about way earlier.

No, it was like seven or eight years,

something like that, yeah.

You realize, holy crap, this is like the mystery,

the terror, like it’s almost like you’re a little prey,

a little baby deer sitting in the darkness

of the jungle or the woods looking all around you.

There’s darkness full of terror.

I mean, that realization says, okay,

I’m gonna go back in the comfort of my mind

where there is a deep meaning,

where there is maybe like pretend I’m immortal

in however way, however kind of idea I can construct

to help me understand that I’m immortal.

Religion helps with that.

You can delude yourself in all kinds of ways,

like lose yourself in the busyness of each day,

have little goals in mind, all those kinds of things

to think that it’s gonna go on forever.

And you kind of know you’re gonna die, yeah,

and it’s gonna be sad, but you don’t really understand

that you’re going to die.

And so that’s their idea.

And I find that compelling because it does seem

to be a core unique aspect of human nature

that we’re able to think that we’re going,

we’re able to really understand that this life is finite.

That seems important.

There’s a bunch of different things there.

So first of all, I don’t think there is a qualitative

difference between us and cats in the term.

I think the difference is that we just have a better

long term ability to predict in the long term.

And so we have a better understanding of how the world works.

So we have better understanding of finiteness of life

and things like that.

So we have a better planning engine than cats?



But what’s the motivation for planning that far?

Well, I think it’s just a side effect of the fact

that we have just a better planning engine

because it makes us, as I said,

the essence of intelligence is the ability to predict.

And so the, because we’re smarter as a side effect,

we also have this ability to kind of make predictions

about our own future existence or lack thereof.


You say religion helps with that.

I think religion hurts actually.

It makes people worry about like,

what’s going to happen after their death, et cetera.

If you believe that, you just don’t exist after death.

Like, it solves completely the problem, at least.

You’re saying if you don’t believe in God,

you don’t worry about what happens after death?


I don’t know.

You only worry about this life

because that’s the only one you have.

I think it’s, well, I don’t know.

If I were to say what Ernest Becker says,

and obviously I agree with him more than not,

is you do deeply worry.

If you believe there’s no God,

there’s still a deep worry of the mystery of it all.

Like, how does that make any sense that it just ends?

I don’t think we can truly understand that this ride,

I mean, so much of our life, the consciousness,

the ego is invested in this being.

And then…

Science keeps bringing humanity down from its pedestal.

And that’s just another example of it.

That’s wonderful, but for us individual humans,

we don’t like to be brought down from a pedestal.

You’re saying like, but see, you’re fine with it because,

well, so what Ernest Becker would say is you’re fine with it

because there’s just a more peaceful existence for you,

but you’re not really fine.

You’re hiding from it.

In fact, some of the people that experience

the deepest trauma earlier in life,

they often, before they seek extensive therapy,

will say that I’m fine.

It’s like when you talk to people who are truly angry,

how are you doing, I’m fine.

The question is, what’s going on?

Now I had a near death experience.

I had a very bad motorbike accident when I was 17.

So, but that didn’t have any impact

on my reflection on that topic.

So I’m basically just playing a bit of devil’s advocate,

pushing back on wondering,

is it truly possible to accept death?

And the flip side, that’s more interesting,

I think for AI and robotics is how important

is it to have this as one of the suite of motivations

is to not just avoid falling off the roof

or something like that, but ponder the end of the ride.

If you listen to the stoics, it’s a great motivator.

It adds a sense of urgency.

So maybe to truly fear death or be cognizant of it

might give a deeper meaning and urgency to the moment

to live fully.

Maybe I don’t disagree with that.

I mean, I think what motivates me here

is knowing more about human nature.

I mean, I think human nature and human intelligence

is a big mystery.

It’s a scientific mystery

in addition to philosophical and et cetera,

but I’m a true believer in science.

So, and I do have kind of a belief

that for complex systems like the brain and the mind,

the way to understand it is to try to reproduce it

with artifacts that you build

because you know what’s essential to it

when you try to build it.

The same way I’ve used this analogy before with you,

I believe, the same way we only started

to understand aerodynamics

when we started building airplanes

and that helped us understand how birds fly.

So I think there’s kind of a similar process here

where we don’t have a full theory of intelligence,

but building intelligent artifacts

will help us perhaps develop some underlying theory

that encompasses not just artificial implements,

but also human and biological intelligence in general.

So you’re an interesting person to ask this question

about sort of all kinds of different other

intelligent entities or intelligences.

What are your thoughts about kind of like the touring

or the Chinese room question?

If we create an AI system that exhibits

a lot of properties of intelligence and consciousness,

how comfortable are you thinking of that entity

as intelligent or conscious?

So you’re trying to build now systems

that have intelligence and there’s metrics

about their performance, but that metric is external.

So how are you, are you okay calling a thing intelligent

or are you going to be like most humans

and be once again unhappy to be brought down

from a pedestal of consciousness slash intelligence?

No, I’ll be very happy to understand

more about human nature, human mind and human intelligence

through the construction of machines

that have similar abilities.

And if a consequence of this is to bring down humanity

one notch down from its already low pedestal,

I’m just fine with it.

That’s just the reality of life.

So I’m fine with that.

Now you were asking me about things that,

opinions I have that a lot of people may disagree with.

I think if we think about the design

of autonomous intelligence systems,

so assuming that we are somewhat successful

at some level of getting machines to learn models

of the world, predictive models of the world,

we build intrinsic motivation objective functions

to drive the behavior of that system.

The system also has perception modules

that allows it to estimate the state of the world

and then have some way of figuring out

the sequence of actions that,

to optimize a particular objective.

If it has a critic of the type that I was describing before,

the thing that makes you recoil your arm

the second time I try to pinch you,

intelligent autonomous machine will have emotions.

I think emotions are an integral part

of autonomous intelligence.

If you have an intelligent system

that is driven by intrinsic motivation, by objectives,

if it has a critic that allows it to predict in advance

whether the outcome of a situation is gonna be good or bad,

is going to have emotions, it’s gonna have fear.


When it predicts that the outcome is gonna be bad

and something to avoid is gonna have elation

when it predicts it’s gonna be good.

If it has drives to relate with humans,

in some ways the way humans have,

it’s gonna be social, right?

And so it’s gonna have emotions

about attachment and things of that type.

So I think the sort of sci fi thing

where you see commander data,

like having an emotion chip that you can turn off, right?

I think that’s ridiculous.

So, I mean, here’s the difficult

philosophical social question.

Do you think there will be a time like a civil rights

movement for robots where, okay, forget the movement,

but a discussion like the Supreme Court

that particular kinds of robots,

you know, particular kinds of systems

deserve the same rights as humans

because they can suffer just as humans can,

all those kinds of things.

Well, perhaps, perhaps not.

Like imagine that humans were,

that you could, you know, die and be restored.

Like, you know, you could be sort of, you know,

be 3D reprinted and, you know,

your brain could be reconstructed in its finest details.

Our ideas of rights will change in that case.

If you can always just,

there’s always a backup you could always restore.

Maybe like the importance of murder

will go down one notch.

That’s right.

But also your desire to do dangerous things,

like, you know, skydiving or, you know,

or, you know, race car driving,

you know, car racing or that kind of stuff,

you know, would probably increase

or, you know, aeroplanes, aerobatics

or that kind of stuff, right?

It would be fine to do a lot of those things

or explore, you know, dangerous areas and things like that.

It would kind of change your relationship.

So now it’s very likely that robots would be like that

because, you know, they’ll be based on perhaps technology

that is somewhat similar to today’s technology

and you can always have a backup.

So it’s possible, I don’t know if you like video games,

but there’s a game called Diablo and…

Oh, my sons are huge fans of this.


In fact, they made a game that’s inspired by it.


Like built a game?

My three sons have a game design studio between them, yeah.

That’s awesome.

They came out with a game.

They just came out with a game.

Last year, no, this was last year,

early last year, about a year ago.

That’s awesome.

But so in Diablo, there’s something called hardcore mode,

which if you die, there’s no, you’re gone.


That’s it.

And so it’s possible with AI systems

for them to be able to operate successfully

and for us to treat them in a certain way

because they have to be integrated in human society,

they have to be able to die, no copies allowed.

In fact, copying is illegal.

It’s possible with humans as well,

like cloning will be illegal, even when it’s possible.

But cloning is not copying, right?

I mean, you don’t reproduce the mind of the person

and the experience.


It’s just a delayed twin, so.

But then it’s, but we were talking about with computers

that you will be able to copy.


You will be able to perfectly save,

pickle the mind state.

And it’s possible that that will be illegal

because that goes against,

that will destroy the motivation of the system.

Okay, so let’s say you have a domestic robot, okay?

Sometime in the future.


And the domestic robot comes to you kind of

somewhat pre trained, it can do a bunch of things,

but it has a particular personality

that makes it slightly different from the other robots

because that makes them more interesting.

And then because it’s lived with you for five years,

you’ve grown some attachment to it and vice versa,

and it’s learned a lot about you.

Or maybe it’s not a real household robot.

Maybe it’s a virtual assistant that lives in your,

you know, augmented reality glasses or whatever, right?

You know, the horror movie type thing, right?

And that system to some extent,

the intelligence in that system is a bit like your child

or maybe your PhD student in the sense that

there’s a lot of you in that machine now, right?

And so if it were a living thing,

you would do this for free if you want, right?

If it’s your child, your child can, you know,

then live his or her own life.

And you know, the fact that they learn stuff from you

doesn’t mean that you have any ownership of it, right?

But if it’s a robot that you’ve trained,

perhaps you have some intellectual property claim


Oh, intellectual property.

Oh, I thought you meant like a permanence value

in the sense that part of you is in.

Well, there is permanence value, right?

So you would lose a lot if that robot were to be destroyed

and you had no backup, you would lose a lot, right?

You lose a lot of investment, you know,

kind of like, you know, a person dying, you know,

that a friend of yours dying

or a coworker or something like that.

But also you have like intellectual property rights

in the sense that that system is fine tuned

to your particular existence.

So that’s now a very unique instantiation

of that original background model,

whatever it was that arrived.

And then there are issues of privacy, right?

Because now imagine that that robot has its own kind

of volition and decides to work for someone else.

Or kind of, you know, thinks life with you

is sort of untenable or whatever.

Now, all the things that that system learned from you,

you know, can you like, you know,

delete all the personal information

that that system knows about you?

I mean, that would be kind of an ethical question.

Like, you know, can you erase the mind

of a intelligent robot to protect your privacy?

You can’t do this with humans.

You can ask them to shut up,

but that you don’t have complete power over them.

You can’t erase humans, yeah, it’s the problem

with the relationships, you know, if you break up,

you can’t erase the other human.

With robots, I think it will have to be the same thing

with robots, that risk, that there has to be some risk

to our interactions to truly experience them deeply,

it feels like.

So you have to be able to lose your robot friend

and that robot friend to go tweeting

about how much of an asshole you were.

But then are you allowed to, you know,

murder the robot to protect your private information

if the robot decides to leave?

I have this intuition that for robots with certain,

like, it’s almost like a regulation.

If you declare your robot to be,

let’s call it sentient or something like that,

like this robot is designed for human interaction,

then you’re not allowed to murder these robots.

It’s the same as murdering other humans.

Well, but what about you do a backup of the robot

that you preserve on a hard drive

for the equivalent in the future?

That might be illegal.

It’s like piracy is illegal.

No, but it’s your own robot, right?

But you can’t, you don’t.

But then you can wipe out his brain.

So this robot doesn’t know anything about you anymore,

but you still have, technically it’s still in existence

because you backed it up.

And then there’ll be these great speeches

at the Supreme Court by saying,

oh, sure, you can erase the mind of the robot

just like you can erase the mind of a human.

We both can suffer.

There’ll be some epic like Obama type character

with a speech that we,

like the robots and the humans are the same.

We can both suffer.

We can both hope.

We can both, all of those kinds of things,

raise families, all that kind of stuff.

It’s interesting for these, just like you said,

emotion seems to be a fascinatingly powerful aspect

of human interaction, human robot interaction.

And if they’re able to exhibit emotions

at the end of the day,

that’s probably going to have us deeply consider

human rights, like what we value in humans,

what we value in other animals.

That’s why robots and AI is great.

It makes us ask really good questions.

The hard questions, yeah.

But you asked about the Chinese room type argument.

Is it real?

If it looks real.

I think the Chinese room argument is a really good one.


So for people who don’t know what Chinese room is,

you can, I don’t even know how to formulate it well,

but basically you can mimic the behavior

of an intelligence system by just following

a giant algorithm code book that tells you exactly

how to respond in exactly each case.

But is that really intelligent?

It’s like a giant lookup table.

When this person says this, you answer this.

And if you understand how that works,

you have this giant, nearly infinite lookup table.

Is that really intelligence?

Cause intelligence seems to be a mechanism

that’s much more interesting and complex

than this lookup table.

I don’t think so.

So the, I mean, the real question comes down to,

do you think, you know, you can,

you can mechanize intelligence in some way,

even if that involves learning?

And the answer is, of course, yes, there’s no question.

There’s a second question then, which is,

assuming you can reproduce intelligence

in sort of different hardware than biological hardware,

you know, like computers, can you, you know,

match human intelligence in all the domains

in which humans are intelligent?

Is it possible, right?

So that’s the hypothesis of strong AI.

The answer to this, in my opinion, is an unqualified yes.

This will as well happen at some point.

There’s no question that machines at some point

will become more intelligent than humans

in all domains where humans are intelligent.

This is not for tomorrow.

It is going to take a long time,

regardless of what, you know,

Elon and others have claimed or believed.

This is a lot harder than many of those guys think it is.

And many of those guys who thought it was simpler than that

years, you know, five years ago,

now think it’s hard because it’s been five years

and they realize it’s going to take a lot longer.

That includes a bunch of people at DeepMind, for example.


Oh, interesting.

I haven’t actually touched base with the DeepMind folks,

but some of it, Elon or Demis Hassabis.

I mean, sometimes in your role,

you have to kind of create deadlines

that are nearer than farther away

to kind of create an urgency.

Because, you know, you have to believe the impossible

is possible in order to accomplish it.

And there’s, of course, a flip side to that coin,

but it’s a weird, you can’t be too cynical

if you want to get something done.


I agree with that.

But, I mean, you have to inspire people, right?

To work on sort of ambitious things.

So, you know, it’s certainly a lot harder than we believe,

but there’s no question in my mind that this will happen.

And now, you know, people are kind of worried about

what does that mean for humans?

They are going to be brought down from their pedestal,

you know, a bunch of notches with that.

And, you know, is that going to be good or bad?

I mean, it’s just going to give more power, right?

It’s an amplifier for human intelligence, really.

So, speaking of doing cool, ambitious things,

FAIR, the Facebook AI research group,

has recently celebrated its eighth birthday.

Or, maybe you can correct me on that.

Looking back, what has been the successes, the failures,

the lessons learned from the eight years of FAIR?

And maybe you can also give context of

where does the newly minted meta AI fit into,

how does it relate to FAIR?

Right, so let me tell you a little bit

about the organization of all this.

Yeah, FAIR was created almost exactly eight years ago.

It wasn’t called FAIR yet.

It took that name a few months later.

And at the time I joined Facebook,

there was a group called the AI group

that had about 12 engineers and a few scientists,

like, you know, 10 engineers and two scientists

or something like that.

I ran it for three and a half years as a director,

you know, hired the first few scientists

and kind of set up the culture and organized it,

you know, explained to the Facebook leadership

what fundamental research was about

and how it can work within industry

and how it needs to be open and everything.

And I think it’s been an unqualified success

in the sense that FAIR has simultaneously produced,

you know, top level research

and advanced the science and the technology,

provided tools, open source tools,

like PyTorch and many others,

but at the same time has had a direct

or mostly indirect impact on Facebook at the time,

now Meta, in the sense that a lot of systems

that Meta is built around now are based

on research projects that started at FAIR.

And so if you were to take out, you know,

deep learning out of Facebook services now

and Meta more generally,

I mean, the company would literally crumble.

I mean, it’s completely built around AI these days.

And it’s really essential to the operations.

So what happened after three and a half years

is that I changed role, I became chief scientist.

So I’m not doing day to day management of FAIR anymore.

I’m more of a kind of, you know,

think about strategy and things like that.

And I carry my, I conduct my own research.

I have, you know, my own kind of research group

working on self supervised learning and things like this,

which I didn’t have time to do when I was director.

So now FAIR is run by Joel Pinot and Antoine Bord together

because FAIR is kind of split in two now.

There’s something called FAIR Labs,

which is sort of bottom up science driven research

and FAIR Excel, which is slightly more organized

for bigger projects that require a little more

kind of focus and more engineering support

and things like that.

So Joel needs FAIR Lab and Antoine Bord needs FAIR Excel.

Where are they located?

It’s delocalized all over.

So there’s no question that the leadership of the company

believes that this was a very worthwhile investment.

And what that means is that it’s there for the long run.


So if you want to talk in these terms, which I don’t like,

this is a business model, if you want,

where FAIR, despite being a very fundamental research lab

brings a lot of value to the company,

either mostly indirectly through other groups.

Now what happened three and a half years ago

when I stepped down was also the creation of Facebook AI,

which was basically a larger organization

that covers FAIR, so FAIR is included in it,

but also has other organizations

that are focused on applied research

or advanced development of AI technology

that is more focused on the products of the company.

So less emphasis on fundamental research.

Less fundamental, but it’s still research.

I mean, there’s a lot of papers coming out

of those organizations and the people are awesome

and wonderful to interact with.

But it serves as kind of a way

to kind of scale up if you want sort of AI technology,

which, you know, may be very experimental

and sort of lab prototypes into things that are usable.

So FAIR is a subset of Meta AI.

Is FAIR become like KFC?

It’ll just keep the F.

Nobody cares what the F stands for.

We’ll know soon enough, probably by the end of 2021.

I guess it’s not a giant change, Mare, FAIR.

Well, Mare doesn’t sound too good,

but the brand people are kind of deciding on this

and they’ve been hesitating for a while now.

And they tell us they’re going to come up with an answer

as to whether FAIR is going to change name

or whether we’re going to change just the meaning of the F.

That’s a good call.

I would keep FAIR and change the meaning of the F.

That would be my preference.

I would turn the F into fundamental AI research.

Oh, that’s really good.

Within Meta AI.

So this would be meta FAIR,

but people will call it FAIR, right?

Yeah, exactly.

I like it.

And now Meta AI is part of the Reality Lab.

So Meta now, the new Facebook is called Meta

and it’s kind of divided into Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp

and Reality Lab.

And Reality Lab is about AR, VR, telepresence,

communication technology and stuff like that.

It’s kind of the, you can think of it as the sort of,

a combination of sort of new products

and technology part of Meta.

Is that where the touch sensing for robots,

I saw that you were posting about that.

Touch sensing for robot is part of FAIR actually.

That’s a FAIR project.

Oh, it is.

Okay, cool.

Yeah, this is also the, no, but there is the other way,

the haptic glove, right?

Yes, that’s more Reality Lab.

That’s Reality Lab research.

Reality Lab research.

By the way, the touch sensors are super interesting.

Like integrating that modality

into the whole sensing suite is very interesting.

So what do you think about the Metaverse?

What do you think about this whole kind of expansion

of the view of the role of Facebook and Meta in the world?

Well, Metaverse really should be thought of

as the next step in the internet, right?

Sort of trying to kind of make the experience

more compelling of being connected

either with other people or with content.

And we are evolved and trained to evolve

in 3D environments where we can see other people.

We can talk to them when we’re near them

or an other viewer far away can’t hear us,

things like that, right?

So there’s a lot of social conventions

that exist in the real world that we can try to transpose.

Now, what is going to be eventually the,

how compelling is it going to be?

Like, is it going to be the case

that people are going to be willing to do this

if they have to wear a huge pair of goggles all day?

Maybe not.

But then again, if the experience

is sufficiently compelling, maybe so.

Or if the device that you have to wear

is just basically a pair of glasses,

and technology makes sufficient progress for that.

AR is a much easier concept to grasp

that you’re going to have augmented reality glasses

that basically contain some sort of virtual assistant

that can help you in your daily lives.

But at the same time with the AR,

you have to contend with reality.

With VR, you can completely detach yourself from reality.

So it gives you freedom.

It might be easier to design worlds in VR.

Yeah, but you can imagine the metaverse

being a mix, right?

Or like, you can have objects that exist in the metaverse

that pop up on top of the real world,

or only exist in virtual reality.

Okay, let me ask the hard question.

Oh, because all of this was easy so far.

This was easy.

The Facebook, now Meta, the social network

has been painted by the media as a net negative for society,

even destructive and evil at times.

You’ve pushed back against this, defending Facebook.

Can you explain your defense?

Yeah, so the description,

the company that is being described in some media

is not the company we know when we work inside.

And it could be claimed that a lot of employees

are uninformed about what really goes on in the company,

but I’m a vice president.

I mean, I have a pretty good vision of what goes on.

I don’t know everything, obviously.

I’m not involved in everything,

but certainly not in decision about content moderation

or anything like this,

but I have some decent vision of what goes on.

And this evil that is being described, I just don’t see it.

And then I think there is an easy story to buy,

which is that all the bad things in the world

and the reason your friend believe crazy stuff,

there’s an easy scapegoat in social media in general,

Facebook in particular.

But you have to look at the data.

Is it the case that Facebook, for example,

polarizes people politically?

Are there academic studies that show this?

Is it the case that teenagers think of themselves less

if they use Instagram more?

Is it the case that people get more riled up

against opposite sides in a debate or political opinion

if they are more on Facebook or if they are less?

And study after study show that none of this is true.

This is independent studies by academic.

They’re not funded by Facebook or Meta.

Study by Stanford, by some of my colleagues at NYU actually

with whom I have no connection.

There’s a study recently, they paid people,

I think it was in former Yugoslavia,

I’m not exactly sure in what part,

but they paid people to not use Facebook for a while

in the period before the anniversary

of the Srebrenica massacres.

So people get riled up, like should we have a celebration?

I mean, a memorial kind of celebration for it or not.

So they paid a bunch of people

to not use Facebook for a few weeks.

And it turns out that those people ended up

being more polarized than they were at the beginning

and the people who were more on Facebook were less polarized.

There’s a study from Stanford of economists at Stanford

that try to identify the causes

of increasing polarization in the US.

And it’s been going on for 40 years

before Mark Zuckerberg was born continuously.

And so if there is a cause,

it’s not Facebook or social media.

So you could say if social media just accelerated,

but no, I mean, it’s basically a continuous evolution

by some measure of polarization in the US.

And then you compare this with other countries

like the West half of Germany

because you can go 40 years in the East side

or Denmark or other countries.

And they use Facebook just as much

and they’re not getting more polarized,

they’re getting less polarized.

So if you want to look for a causal relationship there,

you can find a scapegoat, but you can’t find a cause.

Now, if you want to fix the problem,

you have to find the right cause.

And what rise me up is that people now are accusing Facebook

of bad deeds that are done by others

and those others are we’re not doing anything about them.

And by the way, those others include the owner

of the Wall Street Journal

in which all of those papers were published.

So I should mention that I’m talking to Schrepp,

Mike Schrepp on this podcast and also Mark Zuckerberg

and probably these are conversations you can have with them

because it’s very interesting to me,

even if Facebook has some measurable negative effect,

you can’t just consider that in isolation.

You have to consider about all the positive ways

that it connects us.

So like every technology.

It connects people, it’s a question.

You can’t just say like there’s an increase in division.

Yes, probably Google search engine

has created increase in division.

But you have to consider about how much information

are brought to the world.

Like I’m sure Wikipedia created more division.

If you just look at the division,

we have to look at the full context of the world

and they didn’t make a better world.

And you have to.

The printing press has created more division, right?


I mean, so when the printing press was invented,

the first books that were printed were things like the Bible

and that allowed people to read the Bible by themselves,

not get the message uniquely from priests in Europe.

And that created the Protestant movement

and 200 years of religious persecution and wars.

So that’s a bad side effect of the printing press.

Social networks aren’t being nearly as bad

as the printing press,

but nobody would say the printing press was a bad idea.

Yeah, a lot of it is perception

and there’s a lot of different incentives operating here.

Maybe a quick comment,

since you’re one of the top leaders at Facebook

and at Meta, sorry, that’s in the tech space,

I’m sure Facebook involves a lot of incredible

technological challenges that need to be solved.

A lot of it probably is in the computer infrastructure,

the hardware, I mean, it’s just a huge amount.

Maybe can you give me context about how much of Shrepp’s life

is AI and how much of it is low level compute?

How much of it is flying all around doing business stuff?

And the same with Mark Zuckerberg.

They really focus on AI.

I mean, certainly in the run up of the creation of FAIR

and for at least a year after that, if not more,

Mark was very, very much focused on AI

and was spending quite a lot of effort on it.

And that’s his style.

When he gets interested in something,

he reads everything about it.

He read some of my papers, for example, before I joined.

And so he learned a lot about it.

He said he liked notes.


And Shrepp was really into it also.

I mean, Shrepp is really kind of,

has something I’ve tried to preserve also

despite my not so young age,

which is a sense of wonder about science and technology.

And he certainly has that.

He’s also a wonderful person.

I mean, in terms of like as a manager,

like dealing with people and everything.

Mark also, actually.

I mean, they’re very human people.

In the case of Mark, it’s shockingly human

given his trajectory.

I mean, the personality of him that is painted in the press,

it’s just completely wrong.


But you have to know how to play the press.

So that’s, I put some of that responsibility on him too.

You have to, it’s like, you know,

like the director, the conductor of an orchestra,

you have to play the press and the public

in a certain kind of way

where you convey your true self to them.

If there’s a depth and kindness to it.

It’s hard.

And it’s probably not the best at it.

So, yeah.

You have to learn.

And it’s sad to see, and I’ll talk to him about it,

but Shrep is slowly stepping down.

It’s always sad to see folks sort of be there

for a long time and slowly.

I guess time is sad.

I think he’s done the thing he set out to do.

And, you know, he’s got, you know,

family priorities and stuff like that.

And I understand, you know, after 13 years or something.

It’s been a good run.

Which in Silicon Valley is basically a lifetime.


You know, because, you know, it’s dog years.

So, NeurIPS, the conference just wrapped up.

Let me just go back to something else.

You posted that a paper you coauthored

was rejected from NeurIPS.

As you said, proudly, in quotes, rejected.

It’s a joke.

Yeah, I know.

So, can you describe this paper?

And like, what was the idea in it?

And also, maybe this is a good opportunity to ask

what are the pros and cons, what works and what doesn’t

about the review process?

Yeah, let me talk about the paper first.

I’ll talk about the review process afterwards.

The paper is called VicReg.

So, this is, I mentioned that before.

Variance, invariance, covariance, regularization.

And it’s a technique, a noncontrastive learning technique

for what I call joint embedding architecture.

So, SiameseNets are an example

of joint embedding architecture.

So, joint embedding architecture is,

let me back up a little bit, right?

So, if you want to do self supervised learning,

you can do it by prediction.

So, let’s say you want to train the system

to predict video, right?

You show it a video clip and you train the system

to predict the next, the continuation of that video clip.

Now, because you need to handle uncertainty,

because there are many continuations that are plausible,

you need to have, you need to handle this in some way.

You need to have a way for the system

to be able to produce multiple predictions.

And the way, the only way I know to do this

is through what’s called a latent variable.

So, you have some sort of hidden vector

of a variable that you can vary over a set

or draw from a distribution.

And as you vary this vector over a set,

the output, the prediction varies

over a set of plausible predictions, okay?

So, that’s called,

I call this a generative latent variable model.

Got it.

Okay, now there is an alternative to this,

to handle uncertainty.

And instead of directly predicting the next frames

of the clip, you also run those through another neural net.

So, you now have two neural nets,

one that looks at the initial segment of the video clip,

and another one that looks at the continuation

during training, right?

And what you’re trying to do is learn a representation

of those two video clips that is maximally informative

about the video clips themselves,

but is such that you can predict the representation

of the second video clip

from the representation of the first one easily, okay?

And you can sort of formalize this

in terms of maximizing mutual information

and some stuff like that, but it doesn’t matter.

What you want is informative representations

of the two video clips that are mutually predictable.

What that means is that there’s a lot of details

in the second video clips that are irrelevant.

Let’s say a video clip consists in a camera panning

the scene, there’s gonna be a piece of that room

that is gonna be revealed, and I can somewhat predict

what that room is gonna look like,

but I may not be able to predict the details

of the texture of the ground

and where the tiles are ending and stuff like that, right?

So, those are irrelevant details

that perhaps my representation will eliminate.

And so, what I need is to train this second neural net

in such a way that whenever the continuation video clip

varies over all the plausible continuations,

the representation doesn’t change.

Got it.

So, it’s the, yeah, yeah, got it.

Over the space of the representations,

doing the same kind of thing

as you do with similarity learning.


So, these are two ways to handle multimodality

in a prediction, right?

In the first way, you parameterize the prediction

with a latent variable,

but you predict pixels essentially, right?

In the second one, you don’t predict pixels,

you predict an abstract representation of pixels,

and you guarantee that this abstract representation

has as much information as possible about the input,

but sort of, you know,

drops all the stuff that you really can’t predict,


I used to be a big fan of the first approach.

And in fact, in this paper with Hicham Mishra,

this blog post, the Dark Matter Intelligence,

I was kind of advocating for this.

And in the last year and a half,

I’ve completely changed my mind.

I’m now a big fan of the second one.

And it’s because of a small collection of algorithms

that have been proposed over the last year and a half or so,

two years, to do this, including vCraig,

its predecessor called Barlow Twins,

which I mentioned, a method from our friends at DeepMind

called BYOL, and there’s a bunch of others now

that kind of work similarly.

So, they’re all based on this idea of joint embedding.

Some of them have an explicit criterion

that is an approximation of mutual information.

Some others at BYOL work, but we don’t really know why.

And there’s been like lots of theoretical papers

about why BYOL works.

No, it’s not that, because we take it out

and it still works, and blah, blah, blah.

I mean, so there’s like a big debate,

but the important point is that we now have a collection

of noncontrastive joint embedding methods,

which I think is the best thing since sliced bread.

So, I’m super excited about this

because I think it’s our best shot

for techniques that would allow us

to kind of build predictive world models.

And at the same time,

learn hierarchical representations of the world,

where what matters about the world is preserved

and what is irrelevant is eliminated.

And by the way, the representations,

the before and after, is in the space

in a sequence of images, or is it for single images?

It would be either for a single image, for a sequence.

It doesn’t have to be images.

This could be applied to text.

This could be applied to just about any signal.

I’m looking for methods that are generally applicable

that are not specific to one particular modality.

It could be audio or whatever.

Got it.

So, what’s the story behind this paper?

This paper is describing one such method?

It’s this vcrack method.

So, this is coauthored.

The first author is a student called Adrien Barne,

who is a resident PhD student at Fair Paris,

who is coadvised by me and Jean Ponce,

who is a professor at École Normale Supérieure,

also a research director at INRIA.

So, this is a wonderful program in France

where PhD students can basically do their PhD in industry,

and that’s kind of what’s happening here.

And this paper is a followup on this Bardo Twin paper

by my former postdoc, now Stéphane Denis,

with Li Jing and Iorij Bontar

and a bunch of other people from Fair.

And one of the main criticism from reviewers

is that vcrack is not different enough from Bardo Twins.

But, you know, my impression is that it’s, you know,

Bardo Twins with a few bugs fixed, essentially,

and in the end, this is what people will use.

Right, so.

But, you know, I’m used to stuff

that I submit being rejected for a while.

So, it might be rejected and actually exceptionally well cited

because people use it.

Well, it’s already cited like a bunch of times.

So, I mean, the question is then to the deeper question

about peer review and conferences.

I mean, computer science is a field that’s kind of unique

that the conference is highly prized.

That’s one.


And it’s interesting because the peer review process there

is similar, I suppose, to journals,

but it’s accelerated significantly.

Well, not significantly, but it goes fast.

And it’s a nice way to get stuff out quickly,

to peer review it quickly,

go to present it quickly to the community.

So, not quickly, but quicker.


But nevertheless, it has many of the same flaws

of peer review,

because it’s a limited number of people look at it.

There’s bias and the following,

like that if you want to do new ideas,

you’re going to get pushback.

There’s self interested people that kind of can infer

who submitted it and kind of, you know,

be cranky about it, all that kind of stuff.

Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of social phenomena there.

There’s one social phenomenon, which is that

because the field has been growing exponentially,

the vast majority of people in the field

are extremely junior.


So, as a consequence,

and that’s just a consequence of the field growing, right?

So, as the number of, as the size of the field

kind of starts saturating,

you will have less of that problem

of reviewers being very inexperienced.

A consequence of this is that, you know, young reviewers,

I mean, there’s a phenomenon which is that

reviewers try to make their life easy

and to make their life easy when reviewing a paper

is very simple.

You just have to find a flaw in the paper, right?

So, basically they see the task as finding flaws in papers

and most papers have flaws, even the good ones.


So, it’s easy to, you know, to do that.

Your job is easier as a reviewer if you just focus on this.

But what’s important is like,

is there a new idea in that paper

that is likely to influence?

It doesn’t matter if the experiments are not that great,

if the protocol is, you know, so, so, you know,

things like that.

As long as there is a worthy idea in it

that will influence the way people think about the problem,

even if they make it better, you know, eventually,

I think that’s really what makes a paper useful.

And so, this combination of social phenomena

creates a disease that has plagued, you know,

other fields in the past, like speech recognition,

where basically, you know, people chase numbers

on benchmarks and it’s much easier to get a paper accepted

if it brings an incremental improvement

on a sort of mainstream well accepted method or problem.

And those are, to me, boring papers.

I mean, they’re not useless, right?

Because industry, you know, strives

on those kinds of progress,

but they’re not the ones that I’m interested in,

in terms of like new concepts and new ideas.

So, papers that are really trying to strike

kind of new advances generally don’t make it.

Now, thankfully we have Archive.

Archive, exactly.

And then there’s open review type of situations

where you, and then, I mean, Twitter’s a kind of open review.

I’m a huge believer that review should be done

by thousands of people, not two people.

I agree.

And so Archive, like do you see a future

where a lot of really strong papers,

it’s already the present, but a growing future

where it’ll just be Archive

and you’re presenting an ongoing continuous conference

called Twitter slash the internet slash Archive Sanity.

Andre just released a new version.

So just not, you know, not being so elitist

about this particular gating.

It’s not a question of being elitist or not.

It’s a question of being basically recommendation

and sort of approvals for people who don’t see themselves

as having the ability to do so by themselves, right?

And so it saves time, right?

If you rely on other people’s opinion

and you trust those people or those groups

to evaluate a paper for you, that saves you time

because, you know, you don’t have to like scrutinize

the paper as much, you know, is brought to your attention.

I mean, it’s the whole idea of sort of, you know,

collective recommender system, right?

So I actually thought about this a lot, you know,

about 10, 15 years ago,

because there were discussions at NIPS

and, you know, and we’re about to create iClear

with Yoshua Bengio.

And so I wrote a document kind of describing

a reviewing system, which basically was, you know,

you post your paper on some repository,

let’s say archive or now could be open review.

And then you can form a reviewing entity,

which is equivalent to a reviewing board, you know,

of a journal or program committee of a conference.

You have to list the members.

And then that group reviewing entity can choose

to review a particular paper spontaneously or not.

There is no exclusive relationship anymore

between a paper and a venue or reviewing entity.

Any reviewing entity can review any paper

or may choose not to.

And then, you know, given evaluation,

it’s not published, not published,

it’s just an evaluation and a comment,

which would be public, signed by the reviewing entity.

And if it’s signed by a reviewing entity,

you know, it’s one of the members of reviewing entity.

So if the reviewing entity is, you know,

Lex Friedman’s, you know, preferred papers, right?

You know, it’s Lex Friedman writing the review.

Yes, so for me, that’s a beautiful system, I think.

But in addition to that,

it feels like there should be a reputation system

for the reviewers.

For the reviewing entities,

not the reviewers individually.

The reviewing entities, sure.

But even within that, the reviewers too,

because there’s another thing here.

It’s not just the reputation,

it’s an incentive for an individual person to do great.

Right now, in the academic setting,

the incentive is kind of internal,

just wanting to do a good job.

But honestly, that’s not a strong enough incentive

to do a really good job in reading a paper,

in finding the beautiful amidst the mistakes and the flaws

and all that kind of stuff.

Like if you’re the person that first discovered

a powerful paper, and you get to be proud of that discovery,

then that gives a huge incentive to you.

That’s a big part of my proposal, actually,

where I describe that as, you know,

if your evaluation of papers is predictive

of future success, okay,

then your reputation should go up as a reviewing entity.

So yeah, exactly.

I mean, I even had a master’s student

who was a master’s student in library science

and computer science actually kind of work out exactly

how that should work with formulas and everything.

So in terms of implementation,

do you think that’s something that’s doable?

I mean, I’ve been sort of, you know,

talking about this to sort of various people

like, you know, Andrew McCallum, who started Open Review.

And the reason why we picked Open Review

for iClear initially,

even though it was very early for them,

is because my hope was that iClear,

it was eventually going to kind of

inaugurate this type of system.

So iClear kept the idea of Open Reviews.

So where the reviews are, you know,

published with a paper, which I think is very useful,

but in many ways that’s kind of reverted

to kind of more of a conventional type conferences

for everything else.

And that, I mean, I don’t run iClear.

I’m just the president of the foundation,

but you know, people who run it

should make decisions about how to run it.

And I’m not going to tell them because they are volunteers

and I’m really thankful that they do that.

So, but I’m saddened by the fact

that we’re not being innovative enough.

Yeah, me too.

I hope that changes.


Cause the communication science broadly,

but communication computer science ideas

is how you make those ideas have impact, I think.

Yeah, and I think, you know, a lot of this is

because people have in their mind kind of an objective,

which is, you know, fairness for authors

and the ability to count points basically

and give credits accurately.

But that comes at the expense of the progress of science.

So to some extent,

we’re slowing down the progress of science.

And are we actually achieving fairness?

And we’re not achieving fairness.

You know, we still have biases.

You know, we’re doing, you know, a double blind review,

but you know, the biases are still there.

There are different kinds of biases.

You write that the phenomenon of emergence,

collective behavior exhibited by a large collection

of simple elements in interaction

is one of the things that got you

into neural nets in the first place.

I love cellular automata.

I love simple interacting elements

and the things that emerge from them.

Do you think we understand how complex systems can emerge

from such simple components that interact simply?

No, we don’t.

It’s a big mystery.

Also, it’s a mystery for physicists.

It’s a mystery for biologists.

You know, how is it that the universe around us

seems to be increasing in complexity and not decreasing?

I mean, that is a kind of curious property of physics

that despite the second law of thermodynamics,

we seem to be, you know, evolution and learning

and et cetera seems to be kind of at least locally

to increase complexity and not decrease it.

So perhaps the ultimate purpose of the universe

is to just get more complex.

Have these, I mean, small pockets of beautiful complexity.

Does that, cellular automata,

these kinds of emergence of complex systems

give you some intuition or guide your understanding

of machine learning systems and neural networks and so on?

Or are these, for you right now, disparate concepts?

Well, it got me into it.

You know, I discovered the existence of the perceptron

when I was a college student, you know, by reading a book

and it was a debate between Chomsky and Piaget

and Seymour Papert from MIT was kind of singing the praise

of the perceptron in that book.

And I, the first time I heard about the running machine,

right, so I started digging the literature

and I found those paper, those books,

which were basically transcription of workshops

or conferences from the fifties and sixties

about self organizing systems.

So there were, there was a series of conferences

on self organizing systems and there’s books on this.

Some of them are, you can actually get them

at the internet archive, you know, the digital version.

And there are like fascinating articles in there by,

there’s a guy whose name has been largely forgotten,

Heinz von Förster, he’s a German physicist

who immigrated to the US and worked

on self organizing systems in the fifties.

And in the sixties he created at University of Illinois

at Urbana Champagne, he created the biological

computer laboratory, BCL, which was all about neural nets.

Unfortunately, that was kind of towards the end

of the popularity of neural nets.

So that lab never kind of strived very much,

but he wrote a bunch of papers about self organization

and about the mystery of self organization.

An example he has is you take, imagine you are in space,

there’s no gravity and you have a big box

with magnets in it, okay.

You know, kind of rectangular magnets

with North Pole on one end, South Pole on the other end.

You shake the box gently and the magnets will kind of stick

to themselves and probably form like complex structure,

you know, spontaneously.

You know, that could be an example of self organization,

but you know, you have lots of examples,

neural nets are an example of self organization too,

you know, in many respect.

And it’s a bit of a mystery, you know,

how like what is possible with this, you know,

pattern formation in physical systems, in chaotic system

and things like that, you know, the emergence of life,

you know, things like that.

So, you know, how does that happen?

So it’s a big puzzle for physicists as well.

It feels like understanding this,

the mathematics of emergence

in some constrained situations

might help us create intelligence,

like help us add a little spice to the systems

because you seem to be able to in complex systems

with emergence to be able to get a lot from little.

And so that seems like a shortcut

to get big leaps in performance, but…

But there’s a missing concept that we don’t have.


And it’s something also I’ve been fascinated by

since my undergrad days,

and it’s how you measure complexity, right?

So we don’t actually have good ways of measuring,

or at least we don’t have good ways of interpreting

the measures that we have at our disposal.

Like how do you measure the complexity of something, right?

So there’s all those things, you know,

like, you know, Kolmogorov, Chaitin, Solomonov complexity

of, you know, the length of the shortest program

that would generate a bit string can be thought of

as the complexity of that bit string, right?

I’ve been fascinated by that concept.

The problem with that is that

that complexity is defined up to a constant,

which can be very large.


There are similar concepts that are derived from,

you know, Bayesian probability theory,

where, you know, the complexity of something

is the negative log of its probability, essentially, right?

And you have a complete equivalence between the two things.

And there you would think, you know,

the probability is something that’s well defined mathematically,

which means complexity is well defined.

But it’s not true.

You need to have a model of the distribution.

You may need to have a prior

if you’re doing Bayesian inference.

And the prior plays the same role

as the choice of the computer

with which you measure Kolmogorov complexity.

And so every measure of complexity we have

has some arbitrary density,

you know, an additive constant,

which can be arbitrarily large.

And so, you know, how can we come up with a good theory

of how things become more complex

if we don’t have a good measure of complexity?

Yeah, which we need for this.

One way that people study this in the space of biology,

the people that study the origin of life

or try to recreate the life in the laboratory.

And the more interesting one is the alien one,

is when we go to other planets,

how do we recognize this life?

Because, you know, complexity, we associate complexity,

maybe some level of mobility with life.

You know, we have to be able to, like,

have concrete algorithms for, like,

measuring the level of complexity we see

in order to know the difference between life and non life.

And the problem is that complexity

is in the eye of the beholder.

So let me give you an example.

If I give you an image of the MNIST digits, right,

and I flip through MNIST digits,

there is obviously some structure to it

because local structure, you know,

neighboring pixels are correlated

across the entire data set.

I imagine that I apply a random permutation

to all the pixels, a fixed random permutation.

Now I show you those images,

they will look, you know, really disorganized to you,

more complex.

In fact, they’re not more complex in absolute terms,

they’re exactly the same as originally, right?

And if you knew what the permutation was,

you know, you could undo the permutation.

Now, imagine I give you special glasses

that undo that permutation.

Now, all of a sudden, what looked complicated

becomes simple.


So if you have two, if you have, you know,

humans on one end, and then another race of aliens

that sees the universe with permutation glasses.

Yeah, with the permutation glasses.

Okay, what we perceive as simple to them

is hardly complicated, it’s probably heat.


Heat, yeah.

Okay, and what they perceive as simple to us

is random fluctuation, it’s heat.


Yeah, it’s truly in the eye of the beholder.


It depends what kind of glasses you’re wearing.


It depends what kind of algorithm you’re running

in your perception system.

So I don’t think we’ll have a theory of intelligence,

self organization, evolution, things like this,

until we have a good handle on a notion of complexity

which we know is in the eye of the beholder.

Yeah, it’s sad to think that we might not be able

to detect or interact with alien species

because we’re wearing different glasses.

Because their notion of locality

might be different from ours.

Yeah, exactly.

This actually connects with fascinating questions

in physics at the moment, like modern physics,

quantum physics, like, you know, questions about,

like, you know, can we recover the information

that’s lost in a black hole and things like this, right?

And that relies on notions of complexity,

which, you know, I find this fascinating.

Can you describe your personal quest

to build an expressive electronic wind instrument, EWI?

What is it?

What does it take to build it?

Well, I’m a tinker.

I like building things.

I like building things with combinations of electronics

and, you know, mechanical stuff.

You know, I have a bunch of different hobbies,

but, you know, probably my first one was little,

was building model airplanes and stuff like that.

And I still do that to some extent.

But also electronics, I taught myself electronics

before I studied it.

And the reason I taught myself electronics

is because of music.

My cousin was an aspiring electronic musician

and he had an analog synthesizer.

And I was, you know, basically modifying it for him

and building sequencers and stuff like that, right, for him.

I was in high school when I was doing this.

That’s the interesting, like, progressive rock, like 80s.

Like, what’s the greatest band of all time,

according to Yann LeCun?

Oh, man, there’s too many of them.

But, you know, it’s a combination of, you know,

Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report,

yes, Genesis, you know, pre Peter Gabriel,

Gentle Giant, you know, things like that.


Okay, so this love of electronics

and this love of music combined together.

Right, so I was actually trained to play

Baroque and Renaissance music and I played in an orchestra

when I was in high school and first years of college.

And I played the recorder, crumb horn,

a little bit of oboe, you know, things like that.

So I’m a wind instrument player.

But I always wanted to play improvised music,

even though I don’t know anything about it.

And the only way I figured, you know,

short of like learning to play saxophone

was to play electronic wind instruments.

So they behave, you know, the fingering is similar

to a saxophone, but, you know,

you have wide variety of sound

because you control the synthesizer with it.

So I had a bunch of those, you know,

going back to the late 80s from either Yamaha or Akai.

They’re both kind of the main manufacturers of those.

So they were classically, you know,

going back several decades.

But I’ve never been completely satisfied with them

because of lack of expressivity.

And, you know, those things, you know,

are somewhat expressive.

I mean, they measure the breath pressure,

they measure the lip pressure.

And, you know, you have various parameters.

You can vary with fingers,

but they’re not really as expressive

as an acoustic instrument, right?

You hear John Coltrane play two notes

and you know it’s John Coltrane,

you know, it’s got a unique sound.

Or Miles Davis, right?

You can hear it’s Miles Davis playing the trumpet

because the sound reflects their, you know,

physiognomy, basically, the shape of the vocal track

kind of shapes the sound.

So how do you do this with an electronic instrument?

And I was, many years ago,

I met a guy called David Wessel.

He was a professor at Berkeley

and created the Center for Music Technology there.

And he was interested in that question.

And so I kept kind of thinking about this for many years.

And finally, because of COVID, you know, I was at home,

I was in my workshop.

My workshop serves also as my kind of Zoom room

and home office.

And this is in New Jersey?

In New Jersey.

And I started really being serious about, you know,

building my own iwi instrument.

What else is going on in that New Jersey workshop?

Is there some crazy stuff you’ve built,

like just, or like left on the workshop floor, left behind?

A lot of crazy stuff is, you know,

electronics built with microcontrollers of various kinds

and, you know, weird flying contraptions.

So you still love flying?

It’s a family disease.

My dad got me into it when I was a kid.

And he was building model airplanes when he was a kid.

And he was a mechanical engineer.

He taught himself electronics also.

So he built his early radio control systems

in the late 60s, early 70s.

And so that’s what got me into,

I mean, he got me into kind of, you know,

engineering and science and technology.

Do you also have an interest in appreciation of flight

in other forms, like with drones, quadroptors,

or do you, is it model airplane, the thing that’s?

You know, before drones were, you know,

kind of a consumer product, you know,

I built my own, you know,

with also building a microcontroller

with JavaScripts and accelerometers for stabilization,

writing the firmware for it, you know.

And then when it became kind of a standard thing

you could buy, it was boring, you know,

I stopped doing it.

It was not fun anymore.


You were doing it before it was cool.


What advice would you give to a young person today

in high school and college

that dreams of doing something big like Yann LeCun,

like let’s talk in the space of intelligence,

dreams of having a chance to solve

some fundamental problem in space of intelligence,

both for their career and just in life,

being somebody who was a part

of creating something special?

So try to get interested by big questions,

things like, you know, what is intelligence?

What is the universe made of?

What’s life all about?

Things like that.

Like even like crazy big questions,

like what’s time?

Like nobody knows what time is.

And then learn basic things,

like basic methods, either from math,

from physics or from engineering.

Things that have a long shelf life.

Like if you have a choice between,

like, you know, learning, you know,

mobile programming on iPhone

or quantum mechanics, take quantum mechanics.

Because you’re gonna learn things

that you have no idea exist.

And you may not, you may never be a quantum physicist,

but you will learn about path integrals.

And path integrals are used everywhere.

It’s the same formula that you use

for, you know, Bayesian integration and stuff like that.

So the ideas, the little ideas within quantum mechanics,

within some of these kind of more solidified fields

will have a longer shelf life.

You’ll somehow use indirectly in your work.

Learn classical mechanics, like you’ll learn

about Lagrangian, for example,

which is like a huge, hugely useful concept,

you know, for all kinds of different things.

Learn statistical physics, because all the math

that comes out of, you know, for machine learning

basically comes out of, was figured out

by statistical physicists in the, you know,

late 19th, early 20th century, right?

So, and for some of them actually more recently

for, by people like Giorgio Parisi,

who just got the Nobel prize for the replica method,

among other things, it’s used for a lot of different things.

You know, variational inference,

that math comes from statistical physics.

So a lot of those kind of, you know, basic courses,

you know, if you do electrical engineering,

you take signal processing,

you’ll learn about Fourier transforms.

Again, something super useful is at the basis

of things like graph neural nets,

which is an entirely new sub area of, you know,

AI machine learning, deep learning,

which I think is super promising

for all kinds of applications.

Something very promising,

if you’re more interested in applications,

is the applications of AI machine learning

and deep learning to science,

or to science that can help solve big problems

in the world.

I have colleagues at Meta, at Fair,

who started this project called Open Catalyst,

and it’s an open project collaborative.

And the idea is to use deep learning

to help design new chemical compounds or materials

that would facilitate the separation

of hydrogen from oxygen.

If you can efficiently separate oxygen from hydrogen

with electricity, you solve climate change.

It’s as simple as that,

because you cover, you know,

some random desert with solar panels,

and you have them work all day,

produce hydrogen,

and then you shoot the hydrogen wherever it’s needed.

You don’t need anything else.

You know, you have controllable power

that can be transported anywhere.

So if we have a large scale,

efficient energy storage technology,

like producing hydrogen, we solve climate change.

Here’s another way to solve climate change,

is figuring out how to make fusion work.

Now, the problem with fusion

is that you make a super hot plasma,

and the plasma is unstable and you can’t control it.

Maybe with deep learning,

you can find controllers that will stabilize plasma

and make, you know, practical fusion reactors.

I mean, that’s very speculative,

but, you know, it’s worth trying,

because, you know, the payoff is huge.

There’s a group at Google working on this,

led by John Platt.

So control, convert as many problems

in science and physics and biology and chemistry

into a learnable problem

and see if a machine can learn it.

Right, I mean, there’s properties of, you know,

complex materials that we don’t understand

from first principle, for example, right?

So, you know, if we could design new, you know,

new materials, we could make more efficient batteries.

You know, we could make maybe faster electronics.

We could, I mean, there’s a lot of things we can imagine

doing, or, you know, lighter materials

for cars or airplanes or things like that.

Maybe better fuel cells.

I mean, there’s all kinds of stuff we can imagine.

If we had good fuel cells, hydrogen fuel cells,

we could use them to power airplanes,

and, you know, transportation wouldn’t be, or cars,

and we wouldn’t have emission problem,

CO2 emission problems for air transportation anymore.

So there’s a lot of those things, I think,

where AI, you know, can be used.

And this is not even talking about

all the sort of medicine, biology,

and everything like that, right?

You know, like, you know, protein folding,

you know, figuring out, like, how could you design

your proteins that it sticks to another protein

at a particular site, because that’s how you design drugs

in the end.

So, you know, deep learning would be useful,

although those are kind of, you know,

would be sort of enormous progress

if we could use it for that.

Here’s an example.

If you take, this is like from recent material physics,

you take a monoatomic layer of graphene, right?

So it’s just carbon on a hexagonal mesh,

and you make this single atom thick.

You put another one on top,

you twist them by some magic number of degrees,

three degrees or something.

It becomes superconductor.

Nobody has any idea why.


I want to know how that was discovered,

but that’s the kind of thing that machine learning

can actually discover, these kinds of things.

Maybe not, but there is a hint, perhaps,

that with machine learning, we would train a system

to basically be a phenomenological model

of some complex emergent phenomenon,

which, you know, superconductivity is one of those,

where, you know, this collective phenomenon

is too difficult to describe from first principles

with the current, you know,

the usual sort of reductionist type method,

but we could have deep learning systems

that predict the properties of a system

from a description of it after being trained

with sufficiently many samples.

This guy, Pascal Foua, at EPFL,

he has a startup company that,

where he basically trained a convolutional net,

essentially, to predict the aerodynamic properties

of solids, and you can generate as much data as you want

by just running computational free dynamics, right?

So you give, like, a wing, airfoil,

or something, shape of some kind,

and you run computational free dynamics,

you get, as a result, the drag and, you know,

lift and all that stuff, right?

And you can generate lots of data,

train a neural net to make those predictions,

and now what you have is a differentiable model

of, let’s say, drag and lift

as a function of the shape of that solid,

and so you can do back rate and descent,

you can optimize the shape

so you get the properties you want.

Yeah, that’s incredible.

That’s incredible, and on top of all that,

probably you should read a little bit of literature

and a little bit of history

for inspiration and for wisdom,

because after all, all of these technologies

will have to work in the human world.


And the human world is complicated.

It is, sadly.

Jan, this is an amazing conversation.

I’m really honored that you would talk with me today.

Thank you for all the amazing work you’re doing

at FAIR, at Meta, and thank you for being so passionate

after all these years about everything

that’s going on, you’re a beacon of hope

for the machine learning community,

and thank you so much for spending

your valuable time with me today.

That was awesome.

Thanks for having me on.

That was a pleasure.

Thanks for listening to this conversation with Jan Lacune.

To support this podcast,

please check out our sponsors in the description.

And now, let me leave you with some words

from Isaac Asimov.

Your assumptions are your windows on the world.

Scrub them off every once in a while,

or the light won’t come in.

Thank you for listening, and hope to see you next time.