Facebook's Zuckerberg wants to be the Stephen Hawking of social relations

What makes humans social? Facebook's CEO wants to know.

mark zuckerberg
Credit: Mark Zuckerberg / Facebook

Facebook uses an algorithm for its News Feed, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg is after something much bigger: One that governs all human relationships.

“I’m most interested in questions about people,” the Facebook chief said Tuesday. “I’m also curious about whether there is a fundamental mathematical law underlying human social relationships that governs the balance of who and what we all care about,” he said. “I bet there is.”

Zuckerberg shared his quest with famed physicist Stephen Hawking during an online Q&A. Hawking had asked Zuckerberg what big questions in science he wanted the answers to.

In addition to a social law, Zuckerberg said he was interested in how the brain works, how learning works, and how humans can be empowered to learn “a million times more.”

When it comes to learning, the Q&A helped to explain Facebook’s growing interest in AI, or artificial intelligence. Earlier this month, Facebook opened a research center in Paris to advance efforts begun a little over a year ago in AI-based image recognition, natural language processing and speech recognition applications. Researchers in Paris will work with teams in Menlo Park, California, and New York on various projects.

Those efforts are partly aimed at understanding the meaning of what people share and post on Facebook, Zuckerberg said Tuesday. Divining that meaning could improve the relevance of posts in people’s News Feeds. Also, being able to build computers that could understand what’s in an image and describe it to a blind person “would be pretty amazing,” Zuckerberg said.

mark zuckerberg town hall 2 Zach Miners

The company is building systems that can recognize everything in an image or video, including people, objects and scenes, he said.

Meanwhile, for listening and language in AI, Facebook is focusing on converting speech to text and translating text between languages, and answering people’s natural-language queries, Zuckerberg said.

Facebook recently released a separate app that uses technology based in part on work done by its AI research team, called Moments. The app lets users share photos privately and uses facial recognition to organize photos based on who is in them.

Zuckerberg also outlined his vision for the future of communication, one in which people wear devices that augment reality and allow them to send “full, rich thoughts” to each other just by thinking of something. This would be a communication technology coming after new immersive experiences developed through virtual reality, he said.

VR will be a big step on the way, Zuckerberg said. It will become the next normal form of content after texts, photos and videos, Zuckerberg said. Facebook bought VR headset maker Oculus VR last year for $2 billion.

The Q&A wasn’t all about techy, futuristic stuff. Arnold Schwarzenegger participated, asking Zuckerberg about his workout habits. Zuckerberg said he works out at least three times a week, usually first thing in the morning.

“Staying in shape is very important,” the 31-year-old CEO said.

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