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Netflix Funds UC San Diego Research

AI: Chatbot Tech for Movie Recommendations

With funding from $180.93 billion-dollar streaming giant Netflix, researchers at UC San Diego are working to revolutionize the way movies and shows are recommended to viewers at home.

This goes far above and beyond the typical algorithm-driven recommendation options that people see while scrolling entertainment options. Students at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering are harnessing generative AI to build a conversational recommender system that can engage in two-way dialogue with a viewer to suggest movies or shows based on their personal interests and preferences.

Julian McAuley, Ph.D.
Professor
Jacobs School of Engineering

“People have conversations about recommendations all the time, so why shouldn’t machine-learning help us out?” asked UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering’s Professor Julian McAuley, Ph.D. “This is a very common situation. You and your spouse want to watch Netflix, but you can’t find anything to watch, or you can’t agree on what to watch.”

In those instances, McAuley said, viewers could have a “conversation with the Netflix agent” that would guide them to what they like.

“It’s not like a search engine where you already know what you want and you’re trying to find it,” he added. “Instead, you don’t know what you want, and you don’t necessarily know what’s available, so you need the system to ask you certain questions to help you with discovery.”

Investment in Discovery

Netflix has so far sponsored $100,000 in funding to help McAuley and his team of graduate students continue their research into conversational recommended systems, which was presented this August in an academic paper published in the Conference on Information and Knowledge Management (CIKM). They’ve been exploring the idea for the past few years, but recent advancements in language modeling and generative AI have shifted the end goal into a closer reality.

To be clear, the lab is not building a product for Netflix. “It’s typically the case where academic labs like ours are doing something practical but maybe a bit different from what the deployment-driven research scientists in the company are already working,” McAuley said. The technology is still a way away from being implemented in a user interface.

Retaining IP

McAuley’s lab is one of just a few across the country that are working on this specific modeling. Aside from Netflix, mega corporations like Sony, Google, Intuit and Cisco have sponsored natural language research at his lab.

UC San Diego would license IP from the lab’s research – it wouldn’t be retained by the sponsoring company.

McAuley said he’s not planning a spin-out company at this time, but said some students are “more interested in entrepreneurship” in this space.

UC SAN DIEGO

Established: 1960
Campus: La Jolla
Chancellor: Pradeep Khosla
Business: Higher education, research and healthcare
Enrollment: 43,000
Website:  www.ucsd.edu
Contact: 858-534-2230
Notable: UC San Diego is ranked among the best public research universities in the world.

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