Microsoft announces new AI division led by controversial DeepMind, Inflection co-founder Mustafa Suleyman


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The AI era currently sweeping Silicon Valley and the wider enterprise world owes a lot to DeepMind, the London, UK-based startup that has been steadily researching advances in machine learning technology since its founding in 2010, and which was acquired by Google in 2014, releasing such acclaimed software as protein predictor AlphaFold.

Now, one of DeepMind’s original co-founders, Mustafa Suleyman, has been hired away from his latest role — as co-founder and CEO of the AI startup Inflection — alongside his Inflection co-founder Karén Simonyan, and many others on the Inflection team, to form a new division at one of Google’s chief rivals: Microsoft.

“I’m very excited to announce that Mustafa Suleyman and Karén Simonyan are joining Microsoft to form a new organization called Microsoft AI, focused on advancing Copilot and our other consumer AI products and research,” wrote Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in an official blog post and email made public today.

He continued: “Mustafa will be EVP and CEO, Microsoft AI, and joins the senior leadership team (SLT), reporting to me. Karén is joining this group as Chief Scientist, reporting to Mustafa. I’ve known Mustafa for several years and have greatly admired him as a founder of both DeepMind and Inflection, and as a visionary, product maker, and builder of pioneering teams that go after bold missions.”

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For his part, Suleyman took to the social network X to write: “I’m excited to announce that today I’m joining Microsoft as CEO of Microsoft AI. I’ll be leading all consumer AI products and research, including Copilot, Bing and Edge. My friend and longtime collaborator Karén Simonyan will be Chief Scientist, and several of our amazing teammates have chosen to join us.”

Inflection, meanwhile announced it will continue on with a new CEO, Sean White, former chief of research and development at browser company Mozilla, and that it is bringing its Inflection-2.5 AI model to Microsoft Azure and other cloud platforms, though not immediately (no precise date was given).

As Inflection’s blog post states: “We are hugely proud of what we’ve achieved with Pi. There will be no immediate changes to the service and we’re committed to ensuring that users get ongoing access to great AI experiences in the future.”

Controversial past and concerns about consolidation

While most of the parties celebrated the move, others on social media had a dimmer view, pointing out Suleyman has past accusations of bullying behavior by employees at Google DeepMind, and separately, that the move would seem to reinforce fears of AI consolidation among existing tech leaders, especially since Microsoft is already a major backer of OpenAI and recently partnered with Mistral.

Margaret Mitchell, currently the chief ethics scientist and a researcher at AI code-hosting company Hugging Face and the former co-leader of Google’s AI ethics team fired by the search giant for violations of its code-of-conduct, took to X to say Suleyman “yelled” at her for “having a PhD” and to express empathy with others allegedly bullied by him:

In January 2021, The Wall Street Journal first reported that Suleyman had been stripped of most of his management duties at Google DeepMind following “complaints he bullied staff” and an independent investigation by an outside law firm. Google provided a statement at the time saying Suleyman “undertook professional development training to address areas of concern” and was not managing large teams any longer, and was moved into a role as VP of AI policy, where he was said to have made valued contributions.

Suleyman himself told the newspaper that he “drove people too hard, and at times my management style was not constructive. I apologize unequivocally to those who were affected.” Nonetheless, Google staff were said to be bothered by his role there.

More reports of Suleyman’s alleged bullying emerged later in a Business Insider article published in August 2021 citing interviews with “more than a dozen current and former employees,” which stated DeepMind had issued “confidential settlements” to “former employees who had worked under Suleyman and complained about his conduct.”

Suleyman was accused by unnamed sources of “just flying off the handle out of nowhere,” yelling, humiliation, and leading employees to cry after their meetings with him.

As Business Insider summarized on X: “In one case, Suleyman sent a profanity-laden email to a Listserv of more than 100 employees complaining that the communications team ‘f—ed up’ after disagreements over a blog post, one former employee said.”

Separately but also a dent in Microsoft’s aura of good feelings about the announcement, several tech workers and entrepreneurs have taken to X to note that Google’s hiring of Suleyman and Simonyan and many other Inflection employees is major blow to Inflection and its backers, and raises concerns about concentration of power in the fast-moving generative AI sector.

Interestingly, late last year, Microsoft’s Nadella announced that OpenAI co-founder and CEO Sam Altman would be joining Microsoft to lead a new AI division after Altman’s firing by the OpenAI non-profit holding company’s board, only to see Altman reinstated within days as CEO and most of the old board stepping down.

It now seems that Microsoft is moving ahead with the plan to launch a new AI division, only with a different — and perhaps even more controversial — leader at the top.





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