Facebook's New A.I. Tech Can Distinguish Weed From Fried Broccoli
With new mechanisms to identify contraband, Facebook can now tell the difference between dank nugs and broccoli tempura.
Published on May 2, 2019

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If you’re looking to sell weed on the world wide web, it’s time to log off of Facebook. 

Of course, advertising cannabis — or any other illegal substances, for that matter — for sale on Facebook has been against the rules at the social site since its inception. But now, with state-of-the-art artificial intelligence tools able to weed out photos of pot products by their packaging, as well as distinguish green buds from green groceries, the platform’s use as an underground marketplace might finally get cashed.

According to Mashable, Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer demonstrated the company’s latest AI watchdog at F8, Facebook’s annual developer conference. Using blown up photos of cannabis buds and broccoli tempura, Schroepfer showed off Facebook’s ability to distinguish between the two vaguely-similar pictures. The computer was 93.77% sure that the photo of weed was weed, and 88.39% confident that the fried broccoli was, indeed, a delicious Japanese appetizer.

In another slide, Schroepfer explained the evolution of Facebook’s robocop contraband detection systems, from algorithms that could identify matching keywords like “marijuana” or “weed,” to picture-matching programs. The AI can also identify things like cannabis vape cartridge packaging, sheets of cannabis extracts, and nitrogen-sealed cans of bud. Schroepfer said that Facebook can now flag those packages by determining what they most resemble.

"Today we're catching stuff on a regular basis that I put it in front of regular people and they have to stare at it for a while and try to figure out why this is bad," Schroepfer told the F8 crowd.

But as cannabis advocates like Marijuana Moment reporter Kyle Jaeger have pointed out, Facebook’s machine learning can also be used to nix photos and posts about pot that have nothing to do with illegal sales, including news articles, political posts, and state-legal company pages.

As for whether or not Facebook can corrall some of its more severe content issues, including hate speech and videos containing extreme violence, that is yet to be seen. If you need to know the difference between weed and fried broccoli, though, hit up Facebook — they’ve got you covered.

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Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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