Mark Zuckerberg told the world last October that he was renaming Facebook Meta as the company pushes toward the Metaverse.
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Facebook parent Meta has lost some of its top artificial intelligence scientists this year as the company continues its alignment with the metaverse.
At least four prominent members of Meta AI have departed in recent months, according to people familiar with the matter and LinkedIn analysis. Together, the scientists have published dozens of scientific papers in world-renowned journals and achieved several breakthroughs that Meta has used to improve Facebook and Instagram.
Karl Hermann, an AI entrepreneur who used to work at rival lab DeepMind, told CNBC on Monday the true number could be closer to half a dozen, adding that the company’s London AI lab is seeing an alarming number of departures have recorded. “Meta’s London office just collapsed and they lost most of their fortune [top] researchers within six weeks,” he said.
Neil Lawrence, a professor of machine learning at the University of Cambridge, told CNBC he wasn’t surprised. “Mark [Zuckerberg] now all the meta is gone… and they’ve never really invested in anything in London at all,” he said.
Among those who have left the company is Edward Grefenstette, a research scientist who led Meta’s efforts in a branch of AI known as reinforcement learning, who left in February. He declined to comment when contacted by CNBC.
Heinrich Kuettler, one of Meta AI’s Research Engineering Managers, left the company in recent weeks to join Inflection AI, a startup founded by DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman and LinkedIn billionaire Reid Hoffman. Kuttler joined Meta in January 2019 after spending over two years at DeepMind.
Another recent departure is Ahmad Beirami, who left his position as a research scientist at Meta in January and joined Google in the same capacity.
And last year, in December, Douwe Kiela left his position as research scientist at Meta after spending five years with the company. Today he is head of research at the AI start-up Hugging Face.
Kuttler, Beirami and Kiela did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.
A number of other Meta AI employees have either left or are expected to leave in the coming weeks, a person familiar with the matter told CNBC, asking not to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the issue. They added that there isn’t a single reason people are leaving.
“Some people jump to another big lab because they think it will better advance their career or research agenda,” the source said.
“Others leave because the career or hiring potential for their team is better elsewhere,” the source added. “Others just want to found a start-up or get involved with a smaller company. For some it might be related to meta stock tanking, but I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily the primary reason.”
Meta’s lead AI scientist Yann LeCun, who co-founded the company’s AI lab in 2013 after having dinner at Zuckerberg’s house, told CNBC via email that “people have changing interests[s] and continue.”
He added: “Ed [Grefenstette] joins an unnamed start-up. I’m sad he left. But I understand that people’s interests are shifting. I’m not sure what Heinrich’s plans are. There is no underlying common cause that I know of. There was no detectable migration from FAIR (Facebook AI Research) London or from the other sites.”
It’s worth noting that several people from DeepMind and other AI labs have also joined Meta in recent years.
Meta-AI chief scientist Yann LeCun says people are moving on.
Driven by the belief that AI will change the world, US tech giants have invested heavily in the field in recent years, with most of the money going into hiring top talent from leading colleges such as Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, MIT, Stanford and NYU in the US
The recent departures from Meta AI follow several other large departures over the past two years. Rob Fergus, the co-founder of Meta’s AI lab, left Meta in 2020 to join DeepMind and build a DeepMind team in New York.
Elsewhere, Marc’Aurelio Ranzato left his position as Research Scientist Manager at Meta AI last August and joined DeepMind.
Beyond Meta’s AI lab, 2021 saw a number of other major exits across the company.