Facebook's Yann LeCun: robots won't seek world domination - Axios
Top Stories

Facebook's Yann LeCun: robots won't seek world domination

Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Axios caught up with Yann LeCun, head of Facebook's artificial intelligence lab, backstage at the Future Labs AI Summit to get his thoughts on how the technology he's spent a career advancing will affect the average American. LeCun, who also teaches computer science at NYU, says AI will make us all richer, but that society must regulate the technology through broad, public consensus.

Why he matters: LeCun is a giant in the field, whose contributions to AI have helped drive the technology behind self-driving cars. AI is increasingly found all across Facebook products like image recognition and the personalized News Feed, and could eventually help identify fake news and improve voice-controlled assistant technology. Last summer, Facebook told Fast Company that it had hired more than 150 AI experts, and has tripled its investment in the area of late. Check out the interview below:

What does the Facebook AI Lab do?

The mission is to push the science of artificial intelligence forward, as well as coming up with useful and cool applications along the way.

What's an example of how Facebook uses artificial intelligence?

If you are visually impaired, and you're on Facebook on your smartphone, not only will the text be read to you, but every image you encounter, the system will vocally describe the image to you.

Also, what pieces of information all Facebook users are shown is being determined by your taste, and that includes being able to tell what the post talks about and what angle or attitude the post is taking.

What are your thoughts on effects of artificial intelligence on the economy and jobs?

There's no question that there's going to be a lot of beneficial effects of wide deployment of AI on the economy. You'll have safer cars, more personalized medicine—medical imaging will be revolutionized. It will save lives and increase overall wealth. The next question is: how is that wealth going to be distributed? When you have a rapid technological advance, you tend to see an increase in a concentration of wealth. AI is no different, it's just one contribution to accelerating technology, and so that question needs to be asked. A lot of politicians are refusing to recognize that this is a question to be addressed.

People don't want just a check from the government, they want a job and a sense of purpose. Do you worry that the median worker fifty years from now will have the aptitude to do jobs that need doing?

[AI and automation] will change the value we attribute to things. There will be more value attributed to create activities and intrapersonal relationships, and much less value attributed to material goods, because they will be created by machines.

Does that mean that we have to change the way the way we educate humans? A lot of people aren't really good at soft skills and intrapersonal communication, and it's not something we've had a ton of success teaching in school.

We're not asking people to go against their nature. It will actually be asking them to be more human. If you leverage people's intrapersonal skills and creativity, that's actually what really is human.

In the immediate future, what are the most exciting applications of artificial intelligence?

Healthcare will be one of the most important. It will begin in radiology and dermatology—there are prototype systems we have right now that work pretty well that can diagnose skin ailments, for example. The quality of healthcare will increase—we just have to figure out how make it widely accessible.

You said during your talk that we shouldn't worry about machines taking over the world, because that assumes that computers will have human failings, like greed or the tendency to become violent when threatened. But what about a scenario in which a hedge fund bot is programed to maximize returns, and it turns out the best way to do that is to buy a bunch of food before destroying the rest of the world's food supply. Such a machine would be fulfilling its purpose, but through evil, even if the person who programmed the machine didn't anticipate this reaction.

We have a lot of checks and balances built into society to prevent evil from having infinite power. Most companies are not either working for good or evil—they're just maximizing profits. But we have all sorts of rules and laws to prevent our economy from going haywire. It will be the same thing for AI. Learning to build AI systems that are safe—not because they're going to take over the world, but because you want them to work reliably—is going to take some time, similar to how long it took people to figure out how to build airplanes that don't crash.

There is a group that I helped found called Partnership for AI that's a forum for companies like Google and Facebook, and other groups like the ACLU, to discuss the best way to deploy AI systems in such a way that they are safe and unbiased. These are issues are so broadly important that they must be discussed in public.


Roy Moore refuses to concede

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore looks at election returns. Photo: Brynn Anderson / AP

Republican candidate Roy Moore said late Tuesday night that the election for Alabama's U.S. Senate seat wasn't over.

"God is always in control. Part of the problem with this campaign is we've been painted in an unfavorable and unfaithful light. We've been put in a hole, if you will...what we've got to do is wait on God, and let this process play out...The votes are still coming in and we're looking at that." However, Alabama's Secretary of State told CNN the people of Alabama had spoken, and Doug Jones was the winner.

Go deeper: How Alabama elected Doug Jones.


Winners & losers from the Alabama special election

Photo: John Bazemore / AP

A Democrat will serve as an Alabama Senator for the first time in two decades after Republican Roy Moore's campaign collapsed following allegations of child sexual abuse.

Why it matters: This is a big, unexpected win for Democrats, and follows another key victory in the Virginia governor's race. It's bad news for the Steve Bannon brand of conservatism and President Trump, who went all in for Moore in the closing weeks.


  • Doug Jones, who had never run for public office before, and won as a Democrat in a red state.
  • Democrats​ now have another important notch on their belt, and will close the gap in the Senate to 51-49.
  • #MeToo: Many voters believed Moore's accusers, and the accusations brought down his campaign.
  • Mainstream Republicans: Moore's baggage would have presented plenty of problems for the GOP down the road, even if they are losing a vote in the Senate.


  • Roy Moore: He did the unthinkable, and lost to a Democrat in a statewide Alabama race.
  • Steve Bannon: He was the one promoting Moore from the beginning, over fierce objections within his own party.
  • The Republican Party: The RNC and the president backed an accused sexual predator, and lost. They're also now down a Senate seat.
  • President Trump: He decided to throw his full-throated support behind Moore, and in so doing made his second incorrect bet on the Alabama race. Not to mention, he was the one who appointed Jeff Sessions as Attorney General — considering it a safe seat.

Trump, Biden, Clinton react to Doug Jones' victory over Roy Moore

Democrat Doug Jones pulled out a victory over Republican Roy Moore on Tuesday night, after a race that was turned on its head by allegations of child sexual abuse against Moore. Moore was the second Alabama Republican endorsed by President Trump to lose, after he Moore defeated Trump-backed Luther Strange in the primary. Trump congratulated Jones on "a hard fought victory."


Both Trump-endorsed candidates lose in Alabama

Trump told voters to elect Roy Moore. Photo: AP

President Trump has now twice endorsed the losing candidate in Alabama. He backed Luther Strange in the Republican primary, and threw his weight behind Roy Moore for the general election. Moore was defeated by Democrat Doug Jones tonight.

The big picture: Trump won Alabama by almost 20 points in the 2016 election, but Alabama voters rejected his favored candidates in the Senate race. The same thing happened on Nov. 8 in Virginia, when voters elected Democrat Ralph Northam over Trump-backed Republican Ed Gillespie by a 9-point margin.


FBI agents on Russia probe called Trump an "idiot"

Photo: AP

Two FBI agents who were assigned to investigate alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin exchanged text messages in which they referred to President Trump as an "idiot," Politico reports, citing copies of the messages provided to Congress by the Justice Dept.

The backdrop: Special Counsel Robert Mueller fired one of the agents, Peter Strzok, from the investigation in late July, "immediately" after he learned of the text exchange, the Justice Dept. told Congress. Lisa Page, the other agent in question, had already left Mueller's team by that point.


In tax plan negotiations, corporate rate currently sits at 21%

Rubio. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

The corporate tax rate currently stands at 21%, according to three sources familiar, as lawmakers work to finalize the tax bill they hope to vote on by next week.

  • Why it matters: Both the House and Senate passed bills that would cut the top corporate rate to 20%, but hours after the Senate bill passed, President Trump said he would accept a 22% rate.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted on Tuesday, likely referring to reports that the individual rate is being lowered to 37%: "20.94% Corp. rate to pay for tax cut for working family making $40k was anti-growth but 21% to cut tax for couples making $1million is fine?" Rubio had wanted to raise the corporate tax to pay for a more generous child tax credit, but was shut down.

Charming Charlie becomes 20th major retailer to file for bankruptcy this year

Charming Charlie, the Houston-based jewelry and accessories retailer, announced Tuesday that it reached an agreement with lenders and equity sponsors to clear the way for its filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

What went wrong: Charming Charlie's bread-and-butter, affordable jewlery, is an ideal product for online sellers, given that it can be warehoused and shipped cheaply. What's more, even as business migrated online, Charming Charlie overextended itself, opening 79 stores between 2013 and 2015.

Why it matters: It's the twentieth major retailer to have filed for bankruptcy protection in 2017.

Charming Charlie burst onto the retail scene in 2004, with stores uniquely organized by color, and offering products at prices between high-end jewlery stores and discount shops like Claire's, which is aimed at the teenage market.


Tillerson says he'd meet with North Korea without preconditions

Photo: Susan Walsh / AP

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday that the U.S. was dropping the precondition that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons before sitting down together, according to CNN.

"We are ready to have the first meeting with precondition...Let's just meet, and we can talk about the weather if you want. Talk about whether it's going to be a square table or a round table, if that's what you are excited about. But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face, and then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map of what we might be willing to work towards."

Why it matters: Tillerson said demanding North Korea denuclearize is "unworkable," and that Trump agrees it isn't plausible. Tillerson did demand, however, that North Korea "ensure a period of quiet during talks," per CNN.

  • The White House released a statement in regards to Sec. Tillerson's comments, saying: "The President's views on North Korea have not changed. North Korea is acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China, and South Korea, but the entire world. North Korea's actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea."

Washington Post reporters barred from Moore's election night party

Photo: Brynn Anderson / AP

The Moore campaign has revoked press credentials from reporters for the Washington Post and asked them to leave an election party tonight in Alabama. The campaign also reportedly notified the Post on Monday that its reporters' credentials were denied. It was the Post that broke the story of the first sexual misconduct allegations against Moore.


Trump's lawyer says Mueller is done interviewing White House staff

Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP

Ty Cobb, President Trump's White House lawyer, says "all the White House interviews are over” in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, NBC reports.

  • The big picture: Trump's team has repeatedly tried to take the president out of the spotlight of Mueller's investigation and stated that the probe will wrap up this year.
  • The backdrop: Jay Sekulow, one of Trump's private lawyers, told Axios' Mike Allen that he believes a second special counsel is needed, to investigate potential conflicts of interest in the FBI and Department of Justice.