Mark Zuckerberg ends 2016 by unveiling Jarvis, his personal AI butler


    It’s that time of year to start thinking about New Year’s resolutions. In that vein, Mark Zuckerberg is giving us an update on how well he did with his 2016 resolution to build an artificial intelligence (AI) assistance system for his house. After a year of coding, Zuckerberg is now unveiling Jarvis – the latest addition to his home named after Tony Stark’s AI assistant in the movie Iron Man.

    Among Jarvis’s repertoire of skills, the butler can switch the lights on and off, pick and play music based on Zuckerberg’s tastes, make toast in the morning, and give Mandarin lessons to Zuckerberg’s one-year-old daughter Max.

    Zuckerberg posted several cheeky videos introducing Jarvis to the world. The launch looks pretty impressive even if there were some mishaps along the way. For instance, Zuckerberg made the initial mistake of having Jarvis only recognize commands from his voice. Wife Priscilla wasn’t too happy about that. He also went through some iterations on what Jarvis’s voice should sound like. The Terminator voice turned out a little too aggressive.

    We even get to see what life is like for Jarvis itself. Actor Morgan Freeman gives us a glimpse into its innermost pondering when it’s not busy following orders from Zuckerberg.

    But in all seriousness, Zuckerberg reflected on his year-long personal project and noted just how far ahead and still so far behind AI technology seems to be. And he lamented that he never cracked the code on teaching Jarvis to learn more independently.

    “Everything I did this year — natural language, face recognition, speech recognition and so on — are all variants of the same fundamental pattern recognition techniques,” Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post. “We know how to show a computer many examples of something so it can recognize it accurately, but we still do not know how to take an idea from one domain and apply it to something completely different.”

    So while the AI butler could perform a myriad of useful functions for the house, Zuckerberg would have needed to make fundamental breakthroughs in the state of AI if he wanted a machine capable of learning new things on its own. Right now, Jarvis is really good at suggesting cool new songs but it’s not quite ready to take over as our next machine overlord.


    Jarvis chat bot opening gate

    On a more personal level, the project gave Zuckerberg the chance to give his fingers a workout and get to programming again. As CEO of Facebook, he doesn’t get as much time as he’d like to create code himself. So building Jarvis gave him that opportunity – along with an intensive first-hand look at how Facebook’s AI technology functions.

    “Often, Zuckerberg told me, he emerges from a coding session feeling much like he does when he studies Mandarin, the language he learned as his 2010 challenge. He feels like his brain is activated, on fire.” wrote Fast Company about Zuckerberg’s time coding Jarvis.

    All in all, Zuckerberg plans to keep Jarvis around the house and build out more features incrementally. Meanwhile, get ready for another of Zuckerberg’s skill-stretching New Year’s resolutions to be announced in a few more weeks.

    Kelly Paik
    Kelly Paik writes about science and technology for Fanvive. When she's not catching up on the latest innovations, she uses her free-time painting and roaming to places with languages she can't speak. Because she rather enjoys fumbling through cities and picking things on the menu through a process of eeny meeny miny moe.