Artificial Intelligence

AI Engineers and Specialists Who Quit Meta to Launch Startups

  • Meta’s AI Research (FAIR) has been a breeding ground for artificial intelligence startups.
  • A wave of engineers and directors in AI left after long-term roles and short stints to start or join new ventures.
  • Their startups span machine learning technology for medical imaging, blockchain infrastructure, and career mentorship.

Some of the most notable researchers in artificial intelligence, the technology that powers everything from algorithmic recommendations to voice assistants, are increasingly doing stints at the major technology firms rather than just at university research departments.

Facebook, or Meta’s, AI Research division, known as FAIR, was first announced in 2013 with labs in New York and Menlo Park, California. It launched its Paris lab in 2015 to draw from a different European talent pool than Google’s London-based DeepMind. In the seven years since, it’s added labs in Montreal, Tel Aviv, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and London. 

FAIR is more university lab than company office, publishing innovative research for the public rather than working directly on internal product development and design.

Researchers at FAIR are locked out of using Meta’s internal data, former staffers told Insider. Instead, they use open source data to work on various research projects, in areas such as deep learning and natural language processing, which they can then publish as publicly available academic articles.

“AI research doesn’t have a lot to do with the underlying business” of Meta, Edward Grefenstette, a former AI engineer at the company, said. Grefenstette, who specialized in reinforcement learning systems, left in March 2022 to launch his own startup, which is still in stealth mode. 

As the technology becomes mainstream, Meta also hires scores of AI specialists to work directly on its products, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and Workplace.

A growing number of AI researchers and engineers are quitting these well-paid roles to launch their own ventures and non-profits, capitalizing on growing uptake of artificial intelligence.

Employees-turned-entrepreneurs who spoke to Insider cited entrepreneurial interest, weariness with the hierarchy of a large firm, and a passion for their own projects, as reasons for leaving Meta. There’s been a flurry of departures over the last year, with many heading to small startups working on ethical AI. 

Meet 12 of Meta AI’s departures and the startups they’re working on now:


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