Another promising trend in AI research involves training machines to write software in response to simple voice commands. “This has been a holy grail for a long time,” says Pal. “Coming up with a programming language so flexible that it allows you to program even if you don’t know the programming language.”
It is not hard to imagine a future where almost anyone will be able to execute rudimentary programming tasks using natural language and the spoken word. The ATG team has developed an experimental model called PICARD, inspired by the well-known Star Trek character, that enables this scenario. (PICARD is an acronym for “Parsing Incrementally for Constrained Auto-Regressive Decoding.”)
“Let’s say you want to ask how often a delivery is late,” says Pal. “Instead of writing the code, you can simply say it, and the model translates from text to SQL. Or you’ll be able to say ‘Send me an alert any time I get a sale of this kind of product,’ and that’s it.”
Nicolas Chapados, ATG’s vice president of research, says his group is extending these language models into so-called foundation models, which “are good not just at representing texts, but also at capturing the relationship between related modalities such as text and images.” When a researcher inputs a text description of an image, for example, the model may have the ability to generate that image.
“The kinds of things that people once thought AI should do—really get the nuances of language—are becoming possible,” Chapados says.