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At the heart of research in artificial intelligence at Facebook

About thirty École Polytechnique students have had the opportunity to meet the research team of the artificial intelligence lab at Facebook launched in June 2015. This lab seeks to double its number of researchers by spring 2016.

"The young man you see here, he looks a lot like you." Laurent Solly, CEO of Facebook France, points to a picture of Mark Zuckerberg projected on the white wall of the meeting room. About thirty École Polytechnique students listen intently while the manager quotes numbers reflecting the influence of Facebook, a company which is only eleven years old.

On Thursday, 26th November, these students have had the chance of spending their afternoon in the Parisian office of the world-famous American company - regarded as the grail for these students who have chosen a specialization in computer and data science.

After Laurent Solly's introduction, the Director of Facebook's artifical intelligence research lab (FAIR for Facebook AI Research) in Paris, Florent Perronnin, spoke to the students. "Every day, 350 million photographs and several million videos are published on our social network," said the researcher, a specialist of computer vision. A huge amount of data that researchers from his lab intend to make more easily accessible thanks to artificial intelligence algorithms.

"Artificial intelligence should help sort all the information to which a user has access in order to improve social interactions," he summarized. Among the challenges faced by FAIR researchers: face recognition, prediction of hashtags from texts and pictures and voice support. Another challenge will be to improve the "unsupervised learning". "The aim is to get the machines to learn by themselves, by watching, listening and interacting with the world around them, like a child," said Florent Perronnin.

Those are precisely the challenges that have attracted Alexis Conneau (X 2011) at Paris FAIR. Alexis is currently doing his PhD on "Machine translation neuron" in Facebook's laboratory. With five other researchers on the team, Alexis presented his career, his work and answered students' questions. "A few years ago, I was at your place and  reluctant to do a PhD," said Alexis before adding: "today I urge you to consider this option because to get the most interesting positions in the field of artificial intelligence, a PhD is highly recommended."

This advice has convinced Paul Michel to pursue his studies with a PhD "in natural language processing and learning." "These exchanges with the Facebook team really make me want to do my PhD in the private sector," said Paul. Indeed, all FAIR members have praised the quality of their work environment. The quality of the researchers recruited in the lab, among which is to be found Léon Bottou, École Polytechnique graduate and global expert in machine learning, the ambition of the laboratory and the material resources allocated to further research make Facebook very attractive. "I was given great freedom in the choice of my PhD and that is what prompted me to choose this company over another," added Alexis Conneau.

To students who would like to discover the company, Florent Perronnin suggests to do an internship at first. Bruna Morrone has heard the advice and was busy asking questions to researchers to understand their daily lives. The student is indeed thinking of choosing this laboratory for her research internship beginning in March. Florent Perronnin considers that the internship is a great way to "encourage career callings" and thus encourage these future engineers to go towards research.

"Facebook is not just an engineering and technology company, we also work on long-term research. Facebook wants to participate in the French research community," said Florent Perronnin who is convinced that many companies already rely on artificial intelligence for their future development. Launched in June 2015, the laboratory currently hosts seven people. It should double in size by spring 2016.


Three questions to Laurent Solly, CEO of Facebook France:

Why is it important for a company like Facebook to meet École Polytechnique students?
Facebook in France is a company that seeks to attract the best talents, and École Polytechnique students have of course very interesting profiles for us. This reflects Facebook's evolution in our country. Indeed, we are looking for a diversity of talents for the different divisions of our group: researchers for FAIR, our research center on Artifical Intelligence based in Paris; engineers for Atlas and LiveRail, our AdTech solutions; marketing and communication specialists for Facebook and Instagram...
Our country trains several talents and it's a chance for Facebook to have access to the best graduates for each of its divisions.

What are the career opportunities for École Polytechnique graduates at Facebook ?
There are many École Polytechnique graduates among our employees, and some of them have remarkable international careers, in different teams: engineers obviously, but there are also career paths slightly less expected! Some work in the commercial department, others are developing new products, study data, launch new platforms... The possibilities are endless!

What message and advice would you like to give to École Polytechnique students?
At Facebook, the whole company is driven by the mission given by Mark Zuckerberg: to connect the world and give everyone the power to share and communicate. If I had to address a message to École Polytechnique students, it would be to make sure that you give meaning to your work and to your actions. Students from l'X are destined for great careers, with executive and leadership positions: tomorrow it will therefore be their responsibility to work for the common interest, regardless of the sector in which they operate.