Amid controversies, Facebook trumpets massive new supercomputer

Joseph Boyle and Laurent Barthelemy, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 25 2022 02:16 AM

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears on a monitor as he testifies remotely during a Senate commerce, science, and transportation committee hearing in Washington, DC, October 28, 2020. Michael Reynolds, pool via Reuters/file
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears on a monitor as he testifies remotely during a Senate commerce, science, and transportation committee hearing in Washington, DC, October 28, 2020. Michael Reynolds, pool via Reuters/file

Facebook's parent company Meta announced on Monday it was launching one of the world's most powerful supercomputers to boost its capacity to process data, despite persistent disputes over privacy and disinformation.

The US tech giant said the array of machines could process images and video up to 20 times faster than their current systems.

The supercomputer, built from thousands of processors, will be used to "seamlessly analyze text, images, and video together; develop new augmented reality tools; and much more", the firm said in blog post written by two of its Artificial Intelligence (AI) researchers.

They envisage developing AI tools that will, among other things, allow people speaking in several different languages to understand each other in real-time.

Meta said the machine, known as AI Research SuperCluster (RSC), was already in the top five fastest supercomputers and would become the fastest AI machine in the world when fully built in the next few months.

Platforms such as Facebook and Google have long been criticized for the way they process and utilise the data they take from their users.

The two firms currently face legal cases across the European Union that allege data transfers from the bloc to the United States are illegal.

And the AI algorithms that funnel Facebook users towards appealing posts have been criticized for helping to fuel disinformation and hate speech.

- 'Metaverse' hopes -

Facebook has apologised repeatedly about the adverse effects of its algorithms and has long flagged its investment in content moderators and other measures to tackle problematic posts.

The blog on Monday stressed that weeding out harmful content was among the "critical use cases" for its AI development.

The researchers wrote that high-definition video was creating ever greater demand for processing power at the same time as the company was pushing for AI tools based on trillions of examples.

"We hope RSC will help us build entirely new AI systems that can, for example, power real-time voice translations to large groups of people, each speaking a different language, so they can seamlessly collaborate on a research project or play an AR game together," wrote the researchers.

"Ultimately, the work done with RSC will pave the way toward building technologies for the next major computing platform -- the metaverse, where AI-driven applications and products will play an important role."

Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg has been pushing harder than his big tech rivals to develop the idea of the metaverse, which envisages an immersive 3D internet enabled by virtual reality headsets and sensor equipment.

Facebook has not yet confirmed the location of its supercomputer, telling AFP the information was confidential.

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