LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman Creates AI Company With DeepMind Co-Founder
Reid Hoffman, author, businessman and co-founder of the networking platform ‘LinkedIn’, speaks during the DLD (Digital-Life-Design) conference in Munich, Germany, 19 January 2015.
LinkedIn billionaire Reid Hoffman has co-founded a new artificial intelligence startup called Inflection AI with DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman and former DeepMind researcher Karén Simonyan.
It’s the first time Hoffman has co-founded a company since selling LinkedIn to Microsoft for $26.2 billion in 2016. It’s also the first company Suleyman has co-founded since selling DeepMind to Google. in 2014 for around $600 million.
Inflection will be led by Suleyman, who will assume the role of CEO.
“AI is one of the most transformative technologies of our time,” Hoffman said in a statement shared with CNBC. “Mustafa has been at the forefront of some of the most exciting advances in artificial intelligence. It’s a privilege to join him and Karen in building Inflection.”
Inflection’s announcement, shared exclusively with CNBC, comes just weeks after Suleyman announced he was leaving his role as vice president at Google to work alongside Hoffman at Greylock Partners, a renowned venture capital firm. who invested in Facebook (now Meta) and Airbnb. The entrepreneurs have known each other for almost 10 years.
Before joining Google, Suleyman co-founded DeepMind in London with childhood friend Demis Hassabis and New Zealander Shane Legg in 2010.
In the lead up to the Google acquisition, Suleyman helped DeepMind raise millions of dollars from billionaires including Elon Musk and Peter Thiel. He also led the company’s applied AI efforts for several years, both before and after the acquisition.
What is inflection?
Based in Silicon Valley, Inflection will aim to develop AI software products that facilitate communication between humans and computers.
“If you think about the history of computing, we’ve always tried to reduce the complexity of our ideas in order to communicate them to a machine,” Suleyman told CNBC in a call Monday.
“Even when we write a search query, we simplify, reduce, or write in shorthand so the search engine can understand what we want.”
Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of DeepMind
When humans want to control a computer, they must learn a programming language in order to provide instructions, he added, or use a mouse to navigate and interact with on-screen elements. “All of these allow us to simplify our ideas and reduce their complexity and in some ways their creativity and uniqueness so that a machine can do something,” Suleyman said.
The British entrepreneur has claimed that a new suite of technologies that Inflection will aim to develop will eventually allow anyone to talk to a computer in plain language.
It is unclear at this stage to whom Inflection will sell its products, at what price and when.
Human-computer interaction has advanced dramatically over the past decade, and many people now talk to AI-powered virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa on a daily basis.
While conversations are still far from seamless, computer scientists believe it’s only a matter of time before the experience becomes more seamless as machines get better at generating their own language.
“It feels like we’re on the verge of being able to generate language at roughly human-like performance,” Suleyman said, adding that he thinks it will almost certainly be possible within five years. “It opens up a whole new suite of things we can do in the product space.”
One of the most notable language-generating AI models is OpenAI’s GPT-3, but tech giants like Google, Meta, and Microsoft are building their own systems.
When asked how he plans to compete with the armies of researchers and engineers at these companies, Suleyman said a small group of talented people can have a huge impact.
“Even at the biggest tech companies, there’s a relatively small number of people actually building these (AI) models,” he said. “One of the advantages of doing that in a start-up is that you can go much faster and be more dynamic.”
He added: “My experience of building very many teams over the past 15 years is that there is that golden moment when you really have a small, very tight-knit and focused team. I will try to preserve that too. as long as possible.”
Simonyan, Inflection’s chief scientist, sold his first startup to DeepMind and has been involved in some of the lab’s biggest breakthroughs, including AlphaZero and AlphaFold. He left DeepMind to join Inflection in recent weeks.
Greylock told CNBC he was investing in Inflection, but declined to say how much.
The venture capital firm also plans to “incubate” the company, providing it with marketing, introductions to technology leaders and hiring support.
Hoffman will retain his full-time position at Greylock.
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 a podcast in January where he was interviewed by Hoffman. “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.”
When Suleyman announced he was joining Greylock, a VC, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the discussion, wondered how long he would remain a 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 there’s more in the tank.”
Suleyman said that while Inflection will take up the majority of his time, he plans to continue investing with Greylock.