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Which Lex Luthor Wannabe Will Get the "Elite Tactical Squad" Meta Laid Off?

X Meta Team

Meta (the tech megacorp formerly known as Facebook) has made huge investments in AI.  They’ve also tried to bring rigor and ethical standards to this nascent space, which is extremely important.

Last week they laid off 11,000 employees (nearly 13% of their workforce).  Among those cut?  The entire Meta Probability team, which was made up of data scientists and engineers working on machine learning and AI projects.  According to reports, the Meta Probability team “was made up of 19 people doing Bayesian modeling, 9 people doing ranking and recommendations, 5 people doing ML efficiency, 17 people doing AI for chip design and compilers, as well as managers”.

Georgios Gousios, head of research at software company Endor Labs and associate professor at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands was quoted as saying that Meta Probability was the “equivalent of an elite army tactical squad.”

It’s surprising Meta would lay them off, but they did decide to cut deep.

Now here’s a question not touched on in the news.

Imagine you have a group of AI people who are the elite of the elite.  These people have worked in an environment with essentially unlimited funding for an organization whose ethical standards were…well…absent when inconvenient is a charitable description.  I don’t know any of these people, but if someone wanted to really delve deep into the dark arts of AI, that would be a fantastic environment.

Now you dump this team on the marketplace.

First, that’s a great start for a novel.  Or maybe a TV series.

In 2072, a crack artificial intelligence unit was laid off. These people promptly founded an elite underground development team in Los Angeles. Today, still wanted by IT recruiters, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a machine learning problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them on Telegram, maybe you can hire… the X-Meta-Team.”

But more to the point…you’ve got a bunch of Lex Luthor proteges who were incubated in an environment notorious for favoring profitable exploitation of technology over humans’ privacy and human rights.  Their current Lex Luthor is turning them loose.  They are spurned.  They also need a paycheck.  Plenty of people with money whose views on AI – many whose actions are perhaps not as gated by public opinion and being a public company – are going to step up.

Should these data scientists, Bayesian boffins, and next-gen silicon designers be under some sort of arms control?  Imagine if North Korea popped up and said “hey, you couple score of brainiacs, come work for us for a silly salary and we’ll even pay you in real US currency”.  Of course, that wouldn’t really work because if you gave the North Koreas the absolute latest cutting edge in AI, they don’t have the infrastructure and ecosystems to exploit it.

But China does.

During the Cold War, some US scientists were allegedly not permitted to leave the country.  Perhaps that’s apocryphal, but the thinking was that the Soviets would kidnap them and use Manchurian Candidate techniques (or simple drugs and rubber hoses) to extract critical space or nuclear secrets.

I’m guessing none of the X-Meta-Team individuals has some magic equation that turns every cell phone into a Cylon, and it’s more likely that these individuals will be swiftly subsumed into the swirl in the Silicon Valley bubble in which they operated.

We hope.

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