As the lab strives to keep up with competitors, top talent leaves
As the firm continues to pivot toward the metaverse, Meta has lost some of its top artificial intelligence scientists this year.
According to persons acquainted with the situation and LinkedIn analysis, at least four important members of Meta AI have left in recent months. The experts have scores of scholarly publications published in prestigious journals between them, as well as numerous advances that Meta has used to improve Facebook and Instagram.
Karl Hermann, an AI entrepreneur who previously worked at rival DeepMind, told CNBC on Monday that the true number may be closer to a half-dozen, and that the company's London AI lab had witnessed an alarming amount of exits. "In the space of six weeks, Meta's London office just disintegrated, and they lost the majority of their [best] researchers," he claimed.
Professor of machine learning at the University of Cambridge, Neil Lawrence, told CNBC that he wasn't surprised by the news. "Now Mark [Zuckerberg] has gone all Meta... He added, "and they never genuinely invested in anything in London in the first place."
Edward Grefenstette, a research scientist who led Meta's efforts on a branch of AI known as reinforcement learning and left in February, is among those who have left the company. When approached by CNBC, he declined to comment.
Heinrich Kuttler, a Meta AI research engineering manager, just quit to join Inflection AI, a start-up founded by Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of DeepMind, and LinkedIn billionaire Reid Hoffman. Kuttler joins Meta in January 2019 after working at DeepMind for almost two years.
Ahmad Beirami, a Meta research scientist who departed in January to join Google in the same capacity, is another recent departure.
In December of last year, after five years at Meta, Douwe Kiela departed his position as a research scientist. He's now the chief of research at Hugging Face, an AI start-up.
Kuttler, Beirami, and Kiela did not respond to a request for comment from CNBC.
A number of additional Meta AI employees have gone or are slated to quit in the coming weeks, according to a source familiar with the situation who asked to remain anonymous owing to the sensitivity of the situation. They went on to say that there was no single reason for people to leave.
“Some people jump to another big lab because they feel it will advance their career or research agenda better,” the source said.
“Others go because comp or hiring potential for their team is better elsewhere,” the report states. “Others just want to do a start-up or get involved with a smaller company. It could be linked to the drop in Meta stock for some, but I wouldn't say that's the main cause."
Yann LeCun, Meta's Chief AI Scientist, told CNBC via email that "people have changing interests[s] and move on" after co-founding the firm's AI lab in 2013 after a dinner at Zuckerberg's residence.
"Ed [Grefenstette] is joining an undisclosed start-up," he continued. I'm disappointed that he's gone. However, I recognize that people's interests change with time. Heinrich's ambitions are unknown to me. I am not aware of any underlying shared cause. "Neither FAIR (Facebook AI Research) London nor the other sites have seen any noticeable movement."
It's also worth mentioning that several people from DeepMind and other AI labs have joined Meta in recent years.
U.S. tech giants have been investing heavily in AI over the last few years, fueled by the belief that AI will change the world, with the majority of the money going toward hiring top talent from leading colleges such as Oxford and Cambridge in the United Kingdom, and MIT, Stanford, and NYU in the United States.
The newest departures at Meta AI follow many previous high-profile departures in the last two years. In 2020, Rob Fergus, a co-founder of Meta's AI lab, departed Meta to join DeepMind and establish a DeepMind team in New York.
Marc'Aurelio Ranzato, meanwhile, quit Meta AI's research scientist manager position in August to join DeepMind.
In addition to Meta's AI lab, the corporation saw a number of big exits in 2021.