Machine intelligence is the future of monetization for Facebook

Author: John Mannes / Source: TechCrunch Money. That was effectively the only conversation missing from Facebook’s F8 conference — an eve

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Machine intelligence is the future of monetization for Facebook


That was effectively the only conversation missing from Facebook’s F8 conference — an event that even made time for a progress update on a moonshot project that might one day allow us to hear through our skin. Perhaps that’s the luxury of a company whose advertising revenue is up 57 percent year-over-year.

But don’t misconstrue unseen for unimportant. Behind machine intelligence “at scale” and cute Camera Effects lies a complete dependence on ad revenue. And barring a black swan event, Facebook’s expensive DARPA complex is only going to grow more dominant.

One in four engineers at Facebook are active users of its internal artificial intelligence platform. In that sense, the same technology that allows you to take a selfie with a virtual flower-crown at Coachella also allows the company to identify objects within public photos and videos on your News Feed.

As it becomes more difficult to cram ads onto Facebook without sacrificing the user experience, targeting, engagement and connectivity become the next natural priorities. This explains why Facebook’s ten-year roadmap highlights exactly that — connectivity to get more users on the platform and AI to boost engagement and targeting. In other words, machine intelligence is the future of monetization for Facebook.

The shrinking News Feed problem

In a way, Facebook’s platform is shrinking. Just a few years ago, almost every post a user made was text. But today, an agglomeration of pictures, videos, text and live content define the platform. Without advances in computer vision and machine learning more broadly, Facebook would be handicapped by its own new features.

“Content is getting more complex,” Mark Rabkin, Facebook’s VP of engineering for ads told me. But this complexity brings with it serious upside potential. It’s still very early days for understanding the human context that enables ad deliveries that lead to conversions — despite the fact that Facebook is the world’s second largest digital advertiser behind Google and the meeting room I met Rabkin in was adorned with oversized champagne bottles.

Mark Rabkin, Facebook’s VP of Engineering for Ads

Today, the company already knows a lot about you. Hoards of metadata and explicit groups you join, pages and posts you like, among many other things, have helped Facebook target ads as well as any company in the world.

Looking at the first three ads in my News Feed right now, I see WordPress (the platform I am currently typing on), DigitalGlobe (a company I…

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