Meta shakes up AI unit amid growth

Facebook is moving its artificial intelligence development out of central research labs to its product groups, a move aimed at accelerating adoption of the technology as it pushes for faster growth.

The move breaks with recent practices by many companies, including Facebook, of concentrating AI research efforts in centralized centers.

Metaplatforms Inc.,

The social media giant’s parent company last week announced plans to go the other way, decentralizing how it develops advanced AI and machine learning tools.

In an online post Thursday, Metait is

CTO Andrew Bosworth said the company’s previous approach, centered on a handful of stand-alone R&D centers, made it difficult to integrate new AI capabilities across the business. .

“In the new model, we will redistribute ownership of these AI systems to Metait is

product groups,” Bosworth said. “We believe this will accelerate the adoption of important new technologies across the business while allowing us to continue to push the boundaries.”

Bump into the walls? Running out of battery? Clumsy controllers? The Meta Quest 2 virtual reality headset, formerly known as the Oculus Quest 2, has its flaws. But don’t worry, the WSJ’s Joanna Stern has tips for solving these problems and more. Photo illustration: Preston Jessee for the Wall Street Journal

After posting lackluster first-quarter results and the slowest quarterly sales growth since its IPO a decade ago, Meta is looking to extract more value from everything. Javier Olivan, who was named last week to succeed outgoing chief executive Sheryl Sandberg, is known for focusing on growth and said he would emphasize growth and efficiency.

As part of the restructuring, Jerome Pesenti, who has led global AI research as head of Meta AI for the past four years, is expected to leave at the end of the month. Mr. Pesenti has overseen key projects such as the ongoing development of an AI supercomputer.

Like Meta, many companies with central AI development centers have struggled to convert the emerging capabilities they generated into commercial assets. With little involvement from other divisions, the hubs functioned much like an outsourced AI service.

“It sends a strong message that they think it’s time to focus on integrating AI into their products,” said Bill Gropp, director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois to Urbana-Champaign, about the redesign of Meta. The shift indicates the company will focus on identifying commercial applications of AI, rather than a general search for emerging capabilities for their own good, he said.

Jon Carvill, a spokesman for Meta, said the overall mission of the company’s AI research efforts would remain unchanged in the new structure, as would much of its leadership. Joelle Pineau and Antoine Bordes, who co-lead Facebook AI Research, the company’s main AI research center, known as FAIR, will remain in those roles, he said.

Meta Platforms CTO Andrew Bosworth at last October’s virtual event where Facebook announced its rebranding to Meta and its vision for the Metaverse.


Photo:

Michael Nagle/Bloomberg News

Going forward, however, the research center itself will operate as part of Meta’s Reality Labs research group, a division that oversees work on virtual reality, augmented reality, and other key components of the metaverse. the company said.

At its annual developer conference in October, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook’s renaming to Meta Platforms reflected growth opportunities in the metaverse, where users interact through avatars in video game-like environments. , using digital headsets and other tools to work, shop and play. . Most tech experts say the Metaverse is still several years away.

In a sign of the company’s commitment, the Reality Labs unit lost nearly $3 billion in the first quarter, due to additional spending on the development of virtual reality headsets, software and other tools. Even so, the unit provided one of the few highlights of Meta’s pale first-quarter results, which fell 21% from a year ago to $7.46 billion: it generated $695 million in sales, up from $534 million a year earlier.

Nick van der Meulen, a research fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan Center for Information Systems Research, said Meta’s decision to decentralize AI development “underscores the importance they place on the role of AI in the future of the metaverse”.

For a technology-driven organization like Meta, van der Meulen said, it may no longer make business sense for future product development to rely on a single organizational unit or group: “They have gained enough experience with AI that it has become ubiquitous and therefore central to all of their products,” he said.

Allowing a product group, like Reality Labs, to develop its own technology means “it doesn’t have to constantly compete for resources with a centralized team or justify its development priorities,” Mr. van der Meulen. Instead, they can develop their own solutions based on direct customer feedback, he said.

“Think of it as research first, then eventually you’ll need proper management and engineering deliverables,” said Eric Schmidt, former chief executive of Alphabet. Inc.

Google and Chairman of the Federal National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence. “It’s a good example of the generalization of AI.”

Write to Angus Loten at angus.loten@wsj.com

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