Here's what we know about 'Cortex,' Twitter's new artificial intelligence group focused on understanding content

JackD2David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesTwitter Interim CEO Jack Dorsey

Twitter is ramping up its artificial intelligence efforts, hunting for experts to fill out a new team called “Cortex.”

A couple of recent job postings provide some clues about Twitter’s new Cortex group, which could help the company better personalise its service for its 300 million users and keep up with Google and Facebook in the industry’s escalating AI race.

Twitter is looking to enlist architecture and systems software engineers that will work on “Deep Learning,” a specialised branch of artificial intelligence that’s much in vogue among Internet companies these days. The job postings specify that the positions are based in New York, which is where Madbits, an AI startup that Twitter acquired last year, is based.

A goal of Cortex appears to be “automatic content understanding.” A job listing explains that Twitter basically building the “backbone” of its learning systems, which are intended to automatically label the flood of disparate content that users publish on its social network.

Here’s how Twitter explains in the job listing why it needs artificial intelligence and how it views the new Cotex team:

Twitter is a unique source of real-time information, offering amazing opportunities for automatic content understanding. The format of this content is diverse (tweets, photos, videos, music, hyperlinks, follow graph, …), the distribution of topics ever-changing (on a weekly, daily, or sometimes hourly basis), and the volume ever-growing; making it very challenging to automatically and continuously expose relevant content. Manually defining features to represent this data is showing its limits.

Our team, Twitter Cortex, is responsible for building the representation layer for all this content. As an architecture engineer at Twitter Cortex, you will help us build, scale and maintain the backbone of our online learning systems, and directly impact the lives of our users and the success of our business.

AI is an increasingly important area of focus at many Internet companies. Google acquired DeepMind in 2014 and has been doing a lot of work with artificial neural networks. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has flagged AI as one of the company’s key initiatives.

Twitter may not have the resources of Google or Facebook, but the Cortex group shows Twitter has big plans for AI too. For Twitter, artificial intelligence capabilities could help create powerful new features and products that could revive the service’s stalling user growth.

In a report in Wired earlier this month, Twitter engineering director Alex Roetter provided a few details about Cortex.

Twitter’s initial AI efforts were aimed at identifying porn and other objectionable material on the site, Wired reports. That allowed Twitter to identify, and when necessary remove, objectionable material faster and at a lower cost than by employing armies of humans to pore over the content.

Twitter is now creating a broader AI operation that could be used for everything from helping Twitter better match its users with relevant tweets and people to follow. Twitter’s Cortex is already focusing on the company’s advertising system and will eventually analyse the entire “corpus of tweets,” Wired reports.

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