Meta – the tech titan formerly known as Facebook – desperately wants to take pole position at the forefront of AI research, but things aren’t exactly going to plan.
As reported by Gizmochina, Meta lost a third of its AI research staff in 2022, many of whom cited burnout or lack of faith in the company’s leadership as their reasons for departing. An internal survey from earlier this year showed that just 26% of employees expressed confidence in Meta’s direction as a business.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg hired French computer scientist and roboticist Yann LeCun to lead Meta’s AI efforts back in 2013, but in more recent times Meta has visibly struggled to keep up with the rapid pace of AI expansion demonstrated by competing platforms like ChatGPT and Google Bard. LeCun was notably not among the invitees to the White House’s recent Companies at the Frontier of Artificial Intelligence Innovation summit.
That’s not to say that Meta is failing completely in the AI sphere; recent reveals like a powerful AI music creator and a speech-generation tool too dangerous to release to the public show that the Facebook owner isn’t exactly sitting on its hands when it comes to AI development. So why is it still lagging behind?
Change of direction
The clue’s in the name: remember back in 2021, when the then-ubiquitous Facebook underwent a total rebrand to become ‘Meta’? At the time, it was supposed to herald a new era of technology, led by our reptilian overlord Zuckerberg. Enter the metaverse, he said, where your wildest dreams can come true.
Two years down the line, it’s become pretty clear that his Ready Player Zuck fantasies aren’t going to materialize; at least, not for quite a while. AI, on the other hand, really is the new technology frontier – but Meta’s previous obsession with the metaverse has left it on the back foot in the AI gold rush.
Even though Meta has now shifted to AI as its prime area of investment and has maintained an AI research department for years, it’s fair to say that the Facebook owner failed to capitalize on the AI boom late last year. According to Gizmochina, employees have been urging management to shift focus back towards generative AI, which fell by the wayside in favor of the company’s metaverse push.
Perhaps Meta is simply spread too thin. Back in February, Zuckerberg described 2023 as the company’s “year of efficiency” – a thin cover for Meta’s mass layoffs and project closures back in November 2022, which have seen internal morale fall to an all-time low. Meta is still trying to push ahead in the VR market with products like the Meta Quest Pro, and recently announced it would be releasing a Twitter rival, supposedly called ‘Threads’.
In any case, it seems that Meta might have simply missed the boat. ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing AI are already making huge waves in the wider public sphere, along with the best AI art generators such as Midjourney.
It’s hard to see where Meta’s AI projects will fit in the current lineup; perhaps Zuckerberg should just stick to social media instead. Or maybe we'll see Meta pull another hasty name-change to become 'MetAI' or something equally ridiculous. The possibilities are endless!