Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg completed his 2016 goal to create a simple artificial intelligence program to manage his household.
Named after the Stark family’s faithful servant, Jarvis is the center of Zuckerberg’s smart home, and can respond to voice and text commands to dim the lights, play music or turn on the toaster. That’s not shabby for someone who has a full-time job running the biggest social media company in the world.
Here’s what you need to know about Jarvis:
1. Jarvis Runs a ‘Smart’ Household Where Common Appliances are Connected to the Internet, Even a Toaster From the ’50s
To build an AI that would run the household, Zuckerberg had to connect common household appliances to the internet. That’s easier said than done, because even appliances connected to the Internet ran on different protocols. He had to find a common ground for his Samsung TV, Nest cam, and Sonos system to communicate with one another.
Not only did Zuckerberg have to bridge differences in messaging formats, but in some cases he had to rigup unconnected appliances to the internet. For example, Zuckerberg said one challenge was finding a toaster oven that would start toasting when the power turned on. Eventually, he found a oven from the 1950s that would allow you to press down bread even when it was turned off. He then installed a connected switch to the toaster.
2. AI Bots and the Frameworks for Building Them Are the Future
It’s unsurprising that Zuckerberg would tout Facebook’s Messenger Bot as the wave of the future. Zuckerberg used Facebook Messenger as the primary mode of communication with Jarvis. He said using Facebook’s developer tools like Messenger Bot Framework reinforced his belief of a core Facebook value: “move fast”.
“You should be able to come here and build an app faster than you can anywhere else, including on your own,” Zuckerberg wrote.
In addition to gaining perspective of a Facebook engineer, Zuckerberg shared his insights as as a consumer. Texting, rather than voice, was a more practical mode of communication, Zuckerberg said. Sending written commands via Facebook Messenger was less intrusive and more convenient. He also touted Messenger as the future because they are easier to make and work across iOS and Android devices.
“I have always been optimistic about AI bots, but my experience with Jarvis has made me even more optimistic that we’ll all communicate with bots like Jarvis in the future,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post.
3. Spending 9x More Time on Jarvis Would Only Improve the AI Marginally
Artificial intelligence, Zuckerberg predicted in April, would surpass human’s natural senses in accuracy in the next five to 10 years. Creating Jarvis confirmed his prediction as tools for developing AI become more powerful. However, Zuckerberg noted that artificial intelligence still had not mastered a core tenet of learning.
Teaching computers how to hear, see and taste rely on a pattern gleaned from endless exposure of similar examples. However, teaching them to learn and apply concepts to unrelated areas, would prove a greater challenge, Zuckerberg said. Facebook’s CEO suggested that a “fundamental breakthrough” is needed to improve the state of AI in this area.
To put that in perspective, I spent about 100 hours building Jarvis this year, and now I have a pretty good system that understands me and can do lots of things. But even if I spent 1,000 more hours, I probably wouldn’t be able to build a system that could learn completely new skills on its own — unless I made some fundamental breakthrough in the state of AI along the way.
4. Jarvis is Named After the Stark Family’s Butler Turned Artificial Intelligence Servant
In the Iron Man films, Tony Stark aka Iron Man relies on his personal AI assistant J.A.R.V.I.S, which is an acronym for “Just A Rather Very Intelligent System according to Peter David’s book, Iron Man. But the man behind the robot was a butler to the Stark family, who later served in the Avengers Mansion headquarters. In recent Iron Man movies, J.A.R.V.I.S is a faithful assistant in Stark’s high tech lab, providing digital analysis and input.
Zuckerberg fancies his own AI as a modern rendition of J.A.R.V.I.S saying, “My personal challenge for 2016 was to build a simple AI to run my home — like Jarvis in Iron Man. ”
5. Zuckerberg Completed His Other Goal of Running 365 Miles, But Admits it Took Longer Than Building Jarvis
Besides Zuckerberg’s Jarvis project, he devoted himself to running 365 miles in 2016, which he said took more time than the Jarvis project (100 hours). That would mean his average pace is slower than 3.65 mph. However, he finished his running goal five months early, and said he is now able to go for 20 mile runs, according to Runner’s World. The theme for this year’s challenge was innovation.
Last year, Zuckerberg had a more scholarly goal: reading a new book every other week. His first book was about the shift of power from governments to individuals called The End of Power by Moisés Naím. Zuckerberg created a Facebook Page called “A Year of Books” where he posted his readings and invited the authors to speak in videos. The last post he made lists the 23rd book as The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch.