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DeepMind co-founder quits Google AI role to become VC

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DeepMind co-founder quits Google AI role to become VC

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Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of DeepMind.

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LONDON — DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman surprised many of his followers last week when he announced he was quitting his job as VP of Google to become a venture capitalist in Greylock Partners. of Silicon Valley, which has backed Facebook, Airbnb and LinkedIn ever since. it was founded in 1965.

His departure from Google, which acquired artificial intelligence lab DeepMind in 2014, comes after he was accused of having an aggressive management style by former DeepMind colleagues.

Explaining the rationale for the move, Suleyman told LinkedIn billionaire and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman on a podcast last week that he wanted to be around visionary and fearless founders.

“‘I’m definitely a risk-taker,” Suleyman said on the podcast, which was released last Thursday. “I find it super energizing when I’m around people who also have a brave outlook on life. future, which seems far-fetched or implausible, but who are willing to devote their lives to giving it a shot.”

He added: “These are the kind of people I like to support and I think that’s what we need. We need more people willing to try to do bold things and solve problems. trying to make our world better.”

Suleyman, widely known as “Moose,” declined to speak to CNBC. However, in an exclusive interview with TechCrunch about his new role, he said he believes AI has a central role to play in gaming and the so-called metaverse.

A former DeepMind employee, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the discussion, said he was surprised to read that Suleyman’s main interests appear to be around the metaverse and games.

“In the past, Mustafa had a really admirable focus on really trying to make the world a better place,” they said. “In particular, when he was at DeepMind, he played a vital role in healthcare and climate change projects, so I’m surprised that Suleyman’s main interests now seem to be in the metaverse and games. hope he also finds the time to focus on solving some of the deep issues facing the world.”

Other tech investors said they think Suleyman, who has already made a number of personal investments, would make a good VC.

“I think Mustafa is likely to be an excellent investor given his track record of working with outstanding founders and his early conviction as an investor in [start-up builder] Entrepreneur First,” Ian Hogarth, an angel investor and co-founder of concert discovery app Songkick, told CNBC.

Two of Suleyman’s other public investments include music ticketing app Dice and healthcare app Babylon Health.

Tom Hulme, a venture capital partner at GV (formerly Google Ventures), told CNBC that Suleyman has been excited about the venture capital industry for some time.

But another VC, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the discussion, asked how long Suleyman would remain VC. “My instincts say this is temporary while he looks for the next company to start or join as a founder,” they told CNBC. “I think he has more left in the tank.”

Sell ​​DeepMind to Google

Suleyman co-founded DeepMind in London with childhood friend Demis Hassabis and New Zealander Shane Legg in 2010. Prior to the Google acquisition, Suleyman helped DeepMind raise millions of dollars from billionaires including Elon Musk and Peter Thiel.

Suleyman, who dropped out of his undergraduate degree in philosophy at Oxford University to start a Muslim helpline, led DeepMind’s applied AI efforts for several years before and after the acquisition.

This involved trying to find new uses for the company’s algorithms in Google’s various products and services, as well as other organizations including the UK’s National Health Service and National Grid.

While DeepMind has found clever uses for its technology in Google’s data centers and in apps like YouTube, its external business efforts have been less successful.

DeepMind has yet to make serious revenue from selling its software to third-party organizations. Financial documents filed with the UK Companies Registry show that it has operated at a loss every year since its acquisition, except last year, when it recorded a profit of £43.8 million ($59.6 million). Previously, it reported a loss of $649 million in 2019.

Beyond the application of AI, Suleyman also oversaw DeepMind’s work on AI ethics and that involved trying to set up an independent board to oversee the lab’s research, which could one day have a huge impact on the world. DeepMind is ultimately trying to create super-intelligent machines that can outsmart humans on many levels and create even smarter versions of themselves.

“We made a lot of mistakes in the way we tried to set up the board, and I’m not sure we can say it was definitely successful, but I believe radical experimentation is key here,” Suleyman said on the Podcast. “We need new forms of governance and new forms of control adapted to the modern age.”

DeepMind has experimented with different oversight boards, ethical charters and types of research, Suleyman said.

Speaking about the wider tech industry, he said: “I really think we’re not really close to solving this problem the way we design technology platforms, software and of course AI, like it happens with people, and where people have a significant influence on how it happens in their world and doesn’t just happen to people.”

Controversial exit from DeepMind

In August 2019, Suleyman announced on Twitter that he was walking away from DeepMind, adding that he needed a “break to recharge”. Less than six months later, in December 2019, he announced that he was officially leaving the AI ​​lab he helped build to join Google as vice president of AI product management and AI policy.

The full circumstances of Suleyman’s departure from DeepMind were not disclosed at the time, but it later emerged that a number of his colleagues had taken issue with his management style, accusing him of harassment and bullying. . In January 2021, DeepMind announced that it had hired a law firm to investigate its management style.

“I had a period in 2017-18 where a few colleagues complained about my management style,” Suleyman said on the podcast. “You know, I really screwed up. I was very demanding and quite relentless. I think sometimes it created an environment where I had pretty unreasonable expectations of what people had to deliver and when.”

He added that it ended up being “quite hard to load” and that created a “difficult environment” for some people. “I remain very sorry for the impact this has caused to people and the hurt people have felt,” Suleyman said.

Suleyman said the complaints gave him an opportunity to “step back and reflect” and “grow and mature” as a manager and leader. He admitted he was “super focused on speed and rhythm rather than being thoughtful and attentive to how people are feeling”.

Suleyman says he has been consulting with a coach for a few years as part of an effort to resolve issues raised by his former colleagues.

DeepMind co-founder quits Google AI role to become VC

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