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Facebook shakes up its AI research team

It should elevate the importance of AI at the social network.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
January 23, 2018
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Brian Ach/Getty Images for Wired

Yann LeCun has been the face of Facebook's AI research efforts since 2013, but you'll have to get used to some new people in the mix. An interview with LeCun at Quartz has revealed that he's stepping down from his position as part of a shakeup meant to place AI on an even higher pedestal at the company. LeCun will still be around as the chief AI scientist, but he's being replaced with IBM and BenevolentTech alumni Jérôme Pesenti, who'll take over both the research spot and the Applied Learning Group that rolls AI into products like the News Feed. The newcomer will "oversee all the AI at Facebook," LeCun said, and not just the experimental work.

The company didn't have much choice. LeCun noted that both the research and Applied Machine Learning leaders were reporting to Facebook's technology chief, who was unsurprisingly overwhelmed given how important AI has become. Now, only Pesenti will report to the CTO -- and LeCun will get to focus more on actual research and less on daily business.

This should also create a more harmonious relationship between Facebook's AI divisions. While some of the Applied Machine Learning team is joining the regular Facebook infrastructure group, those staying put will work with researchers to bring more of their projects into honest-to-goodness shipping products. To put it another way, clever ideas should be stuck in the lab.

The timing of the role changes couldn't be more appropriate. Facebook just announced a fundamental shift in the prioritization of the News Feed, and it's planning to rank trusted sources as part of its ongoing bid to fight fake news. The company has frequently been accused of relying too heavily on AI to solve all its problems, but the new structure might help it make better use of AI or apply it to areas where it wasn't previously practical.

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