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Facebook's new goal for AI: Searching through photos and video

Facebook is trying to use artificial intelligence to make it easier for you to, well, Facebook.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook wants to use artificial intelligence to make it easier for people to find photos and videos on the social network.
James Martin/CNET

Facebook isn't working on artificial intelligence just to let you text with robots. (Though it's doing that, too.)

It's also using the technology to do something much simpler: help you quickly find the photos you're searching for or the videos you want to see on the social network.

The company showed off several new ways to use "machine learning," a form of AI where computers can learn to work without first being programmed, to search through its massive trove of photos and videos.

"We're doing research on cracking the image open, and understanding it on an individual pixel level," Joaquin Candela, head of Facebook's Applied Machine Learning group, said Wednesday at F8, the company's annual conference for software developers.

That includes typing in a keyword like "snow" and having photos from your last snow trip pop up. Facebook could then build the tool out "on steroids," where you could say you wanted to see a picture with snow, two trees, four people and a cabin in the background.

The new search tools underscore just how important AI is to the future of tech -- and how much Facebook needs to keep reinventing itself to keep its 1.6 billion users engaged. It's the first step into a world where robots can help with everything from the mundane to the major. Think everything from finding a photo to performing open heart surgery. On Tuesday, the company announced a big push to get more chatbots, software that can do tasks or answer questions, on its Messenger App. Silicon Valley's biggest companies, including Google and Microsoft, have invested heavily in AI.

Facebook also talked about AI for video. The technology could be used to automatically generate closed captioning. Or it could use facial recognition to automatically tag people in a video, and the point at which they appeared in it.

It could also be used for the company's Facebook Live feature, which lets people film a live broadcast with their phone cameras for others to watch on Facebook. Last week, the social network unveiled a map so people could see what videos are going on anywhere in the world. Using AI to categorize each video, someone could find every, say, baseball video live-streaming on Facebook.