Netflix Building an Artificial Brain to Figure Out What the Heck Movie You Want to Watch
What should I watch tonight? It's the question that plagues many Netflix users as they scroll through the many titles in the company's massive streaming catalog. It's a question that too often goes unanswered, leaving users to give up and possibly even cancel their Netflix account. That's not something Netflix wants to happen, so to help fix it, they're building an artificial brain powered by "deep learning," a type of artificial intelligence designed to "solve particularly hard problems." Like, uh, what should I watch tonight?
In a recent blog post, Netflix detailed their new efforts to build a better recommendation engine, one that could hopefully rival the tried and true "Staff Picks" at your old video store. One that knows what mood you're in, what actors you like and can make appropriate suggestions.
Netflix is using something called neural networks, which Wired helpfully translates as "computer simulations of the vast networks of neurons that pass signals back and forth across your brain." The idea would be that the Netflix dashboard could make viewing recommendations on an almost human level, depending on the data you feed it. These new algorithms can detect faces in photos, learn your tastes and habits, and, to a certain extent, understand what you say.
So, let's imagine a future where you log in to Netflix. Your TV is now hooked up to a camera and the scan reveals your face is frowning; you look upsset. Your voice sounds defeated when you talk to the A.I. "I just broke up with my girlfriend, what movie should I watch?" And, instead of now, when Netflix would just suggest 'Dracula 3000' starring Caspar van Diem and Coolio, Netflix may start playing 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' while you wallow in your misery.
The obvious danger is that Netflix evolves into Skynet and one day when you request to watch 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' it actually launches Judgment Day. But, an alternate scenario is that Netflix will one day come bundled with the sweet, raspy voice of Scarlett Johansson and the two of you will fall in love and have wonderful TV sex.
If you're interested in reading Netflix's full blog post, you can head here, but be warned, it wasn't written for the layperson and includes a lot of fancy terms like "Bayesian Optimization" and "Gaussian Processes."