Why Meta Is Now Scrambling to Catch Up on AI

Because the summer time of 2022 got here to a detailed, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg gathered his high lieutenants for a five-hour dissection of the corporate’s computing capability, centered on its skill to do cutting-edge synthetic intelligence work, in accordance with an organization memo dated September 20 reviewed by Reuters.

That they had a thorny downside: regardless of high-profile investments in AI analysis, the social media large had been gradual to undertake costly AI-friendly {hardware} and software program programs for its essential enterprise, hobbling its skill to maintain tempo with innovation at scale even because it more and more relied on AI to help its development, in accordance with the memo, firm statements and interviews with 12 individuals aware of the adjustments, who spoke on situation of anonymity to debate inside firm issues.

“We have a significant gap in our tooling, workflows and processes when it comes to developing for AI. We need to invest heavily here,” mentioned the memo, written by new head of infrastructure Santosh Janardhan, which was posted on Meta’s inside message board in September and is being reported now for the primary time.

Supporting AI work would require Meta to “fundamentally shift our physical infrastructure design, our software systems, and our approach to providing a stable platform,” it added.

For greater than a 12 months, Meta has been engaged in an enormous mission to whip its AI infrastructure into form. Whereas the corporate has publicly acknowledged “playing a little bit of catch-up” on AI {hardware} developments, particulars of the overhaul – together with capability crunches, management adjustments and a scrapped AI chip mission – haven’t been reported beforehand.

Requested concerning the memo and the restructuring, Meta spokesperson Jon Carvill mentioned the corporate “has a proven track record in creating and deploying state-of-the-art infrastructure at scale combined with deep expertise in AI research and engineering.”

“We’re confident in our ability to continue expanding our infrastructure’s capabilities to meet our near-term and long-term needs as we bring new AI-powered experiences to our family of apps and consumer products,” mentioned Carvill. He declined to touch upon whether or not Meta deserted its AI chip.

Janardhan and different executives didn’t grant requests for interviews made through the corporate.

The overhaul spiked Meta’s capital expenditures by about $4 billion (roughly Rs. 32,775 crore) 1 / 4, in accordance with firm disclosures – almost double its spend as of 2021 – and led it to pause or cancel beforehand deliberate information centre builds in 4 places.

These investments have coincided with a interval of extreme monetary squeeze for Meta, which has been shedding workers since November at a scale not seen because the dotcom bust.

In the meantime, Microsoft-backed OpenAI’s ChatGPT surged to change into the fastest-growing client utility in historical past after its Nov. 30 debut, triggering an arms race amongst tech giants to launch merchandise utilizing so-called generative AI, which, past recognizing patterns in information like different AI, creates human-like written and visible content material in response to prompts.

Generative AI gobbles up reams of computing energy, amplifying the urgency of Meta’s capability scramble, mentioned 5 of the sources.

Falling behind

A key supply of the difficulty, these 5 sources mentioned, may be traced again to Meta’s belated embrace of the graphics processing unit, or GPU, for AI work.

GPU chips are uniquely well-suited to synthetic intelligence processing as a result of they’ll carry out giant numbers of duties concurrently, decreasing the time wanted to churn by means of billions of items of knowledge.

Nonetheless, GPUs are additionally dearer than different chips, with chipmaker Nvidia Corp controlling 80 % of the market and sustaining a commanding lead on accompanying software program, the sources mentioned.

Nvidia didn’t reply to a request for remark for this story.

As a substitute, till final 12 months, Meta largely ran AI workloads utilizing the corporate’s fleet of commodity central processing models (CPUs), the workhorse chip of the computing world, which has stuffed information centres for many years however performs AI work poorly.

In accordance with two of these sources, the corporate additionally began utilizing its personal {custom} chip it had designed in-house for inference, an AI course of during which algorithms educated on large quantities of knowledge make judgments and generate responses to prompts.

By 2021, that two-pronged strategy proved slower and fewer environment friendly than one constructed round GPUs, which had been additionally extra versatile in operating various kinds of fashions than Meta’s chip, the 2 individuals mentioned.

Meta declined to touch upon its AI chip’s efficiency.

As Zuckerberg pivoted the corporate towards the metaverse – a set of digital worlds enabled by augmented and digital actuality – its capability crunch was slowing its skill to deploy AI to answer threats, just like the rise of social media rival TikTok and Apple-led advert privateness adjustments, mentioned 4 of the sources.

The stumbles caught the eye of former Meta board member Peter Thiel, who resigned in early 2022, with out rationalization.

At a board assembly earlier than he left, Thiel advised Zuckerberg and his executives they had been complacent about Meta’s core social media enterprise whereas focusing an excessive amount of on the metaverse, which he mentioned left the corporate weak to the problem from TikTok, in accordance with two sources aware of the change.

Meta declined to touch upon the dialog.


After pulling the plug on a large-scale rollout of Meta’s personal {custom} inference chip, which was deliberate for 2022, executives as an alternative reversed course and positioned orders that 12 months for billions of {dollars} value of Nvidia GPUs, one supply mentioned.

Meta declined to touch upon the order.

By then, Meta was already a number of steps behind friends like Google, which had begun deploying its personal custom-built model of GPUs, known as the TPU, in 2015.

Executives additionally that spring set about reorganizing Meta’s AI models, naming two new heads of engineering within the course of, together with Janardhan, the writer of the September memo.

Greater than a dozen executives left Meta throughout the months-long upheaval, in accordance with their LinkedIn profiles and a supply aware of the departures, a near-wholesale change of AI infrastructure management.

Meta subsequent began retooling its information centres to accommodate the incoming GPUs, which draw extra energy and produce extra warmth than CPUs, and which should be clustered intently along with specialised networking between them.

The services wanted 24 to 32 instances the networking capability and new liquid cooling programs to handle the clusters’ warmth, requiring them to be “entirely redesigned,” in accordance with Janardhan’s memo and 4 sources aware of the mission, particulars of which haven’t beforehand been disclosed.

Because the work bought underway, Meta made inside plans to begin creating a brand new and extra bold in-house chip, which, like a GPU, can be able to each coaching AI fashions and performing inference. The mission, which has not been reported beforehand, is about to complete round 2025, two sources mentioned.

Carvill, the Meta spokesperson, mentioned information heart building that was paused whereas transitioning to the brand new designs would resume later this 12 months. He declined to touch upon the chip mission.


Whereas scaling up its GPU capability, Meta, for now, has had little to point out as rivals like Microsoft and Google promote public launches of economic generative AI merchandise.

Chief Monetary Officer Susan Li acknowledged in February that Meta was not devoting a lot of its present compute to generative work, saying “basically all of our AI capacity is going towards ads, feeds and Reels,” its TikTok-like quick video format that’s fashionable with youthful customers.

In accordance with 4 of the sources, Meta didn’t prioritize constructing generative AI merchandise till after the launch of ChatGPT in November. Although its analysis lab FAIR, or Fb AI Analysis, has been publishing prototypes of the expertise since late 2021, the corporate was not centered on changing its well-regarded analysis into merchandise, they mentioned.

As investor curiosity soars, that’s altering. Zuckerberg introduced a brand new top-level generative AI group in February that he mentioned would “turbocharge” the corporate’s work within the space.

Chief Technology Officer Andrew Bosworth likewise mentioned this month that generative AI was the world the place he and Zuckerberg had been spending probably the most time, forecasting Meta would launch a product this 12 months.

Two individuals aware of the brand new group mentioned its work was within the early levels and centered on constructing a basis mannequin, a core program that later may be advantageous tuned and tailored for various merchandise.

Carvill, the Meta spokesperson, mentioned the corporate has been constructing generative AI merchandise on completely different groups for greater than a 12 months. He confirmed that the work has accelerated within the months since ChatGPT’s arrival.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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