Talk the Walk: Facebook’s AI tourist bot guided through NYC

Talk the Walk: Facebook’s AI tourist bot guided through NYC

Talk the Walk: Facebook’s AI tourist bot guided through NYC


We can all agree on the fact that we have come a long way from the days of reading paper maps to get to where we are going. Nowadays we can simply pull out our phones and type in our destination, resulting in pretty specific directions, along with the estimated distance and travel time.


So why bother with trying to teach artificial intelligence bots to give and receive directions? Facebook has launched a research experiment Talk the Walk, which essentially is two bots, one of which plays the tourist while the other is the guide, trying to get to a specific location by giving directions through text messages – and there is a good reason why.

The idea behind Talk the Walk


The company behind Talk the Walk, Facebook, paired two artificial intelligence bots for the experiment. One of them was equipped with a 2D map and tasked with giving directions in New York. The other one acted as an AI tourist bot. Facebook gave the tourist bot 360-degree photos of street corners in New York to use as its location.


The two bots communicated through text messages. The tourist bot would describe its surroundings in order for the guide to locate the tourist and be able to give directions to the desired destination. The bots communicated in two different ways, either with symbols or natural language. You can see the bots completing these tasks in the video below.

Why should researchers bother with this?


As mentioned before, it is rather easy for a person to get from point A to point B by utilizing their phone. Why train AI bots for the same task? The idea behind this experiment is not necessarily to teach the bots to guide, but rather for them to learn in a different way. Researchers are still looking for the best way to teach AI bots. Facebook’s AI research lab, FAIR, is trying out another way with this experiment.


AI bots can often recognize human speech and even document what was said. The learning process is very different from the human learning process. The process behind Talk the Walk is a step in that direction. FAIR is using a theory called embodied learning. The usage of one’s surroundings and experiences for learning brings AI closer to the human learning process.


If the bots succeed, the theory could be utilized in teaching AI to do other things as well. This could mean that AI bots in the near future have a more human-like learning process and therefore can perform a wider variety of tasks. Only time will tell what the impact of this experiment is on the world of artificial intelligence.

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