Mike Schroepfer, CTO of Facebook (pictured), used the company’s F8 conference to discuss its work to address negative use of its various apps and services, citing AI as a key enabler in tackling its challenges.
The comments come as the company faces a raft of criticism over numerous issues, from privacy to hate speech. Earlier this week, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, discussed the company’s work to improve its privacy credentials.
In a keynote session, the CTO noted the lessons of recent years have “made us realise the deep responsibility we have to understand not just all the amazing good that can come from new technology, but the bad, the unintended consequences, the ways in which people may abuse those new technologies”.
Among the issues the company has been criticised for failing to act on are election interference, misinformation and hate speech.
“There are not simple answers to these complex problems. Instead what we’ve decided is we have to dedicate ourselves to getting into the details, to working these problems, day after day, month after month, year after year,” he said.
In order to identify the potential for harm in new products, whether unintentional or through “bad actors”, the company is embedding specialists within product teams, in order to understand the specific nuances.
For example, the core Facebook app has a Groups feature which is not replicated elsewhere, while Instagram is home to a number of “influencers” who hold significant sway. And VR also presents a “unique set of challenges when dealing with social experiences”, the CTO said.
“When two people are together in a virtual world, the sense of physical safety and physical comfort, how close is someone standing next to me in this virtual world, becomes a paramount issue and something the Oculus team has focused on deeply.”
Facebook is also engaging with external specialists in areas covering security; privacy; misinformation; inclusion; accessibility; and content policy, “before, during and after product development”.
“The other lesson we’ve learned is that we can’t, and we shouldn’t, do this alone.”
Schroepfer said to make the best use of technology to address the challenges it is facing, it is looking to centralised platforms which span the range of issues it is focusing on, to concentrate its investments and apply solutions across problem areas and product teams.
“A steady investment in AI technology has caused us to make steady progress in attacking each of these areas,” he said. “We’ve seen a number of breakthroughs in basic technology that are breaking us out of this current state.”
He acknowleded there is no perfect solution, but said “we have to keep going”.
“And this is where I think optimism about the future is really important. Because where we are now, when we stare down some of these problems and you look at the magnitude of them, the difficulty, the breadth, the real world impact it has, it’s really easy to lose hope, to want to pack up and go home. But we can’t do that: we’re here to bring a better future for people through technology.”
“When we do this work right to prevent the bad experiences, it opens up the window for us to create great new experiences that only new technology can build.”Subscribe to our daily newsletter Back