How A.I. Made Mark Zuckerberg Popular Again in Silicon Valley

After some challenging years, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, has found new support among developers and technologists. Many now see him as a champion of “open-source” artificial intelligence. This shift comes as a surprise, given his previously mixed reputation in tech circles.

Skepticism Turns to Support

When Zuckerberg announced Meta’s A.I. system last year, Jeffrey Emanuel, a part-time hacker and full-time A.I. enthusiast, was skeptical. Emanuel had experience with “closed” A.I. models from companies like OpenAI, where the code isn’t accessible or modifiable.

Initially, Meta’s A.I. was released to a select group of academics, raising concerns about its limited accessibility. However, last summer, Zuckerberg made the A.I. system open source, allowing anyone to copy, modify, and reuse the code.

Embracing the Open-Source Ethos

Emanuel, founder of the blockchain start-up Pastel Network, was impressed. He found Meta’s A.I. system powerful and user-friendly, but what he appreciated most was Zuckerberg’s commitment to open-source principles. This stood in stark contrast to the closed strategies of companies like Google, OpenAI, and Microsoft.

“We have this champion in Zuckerberg,” Emanuel said. “Thank God we have someone to protect the open-source ethos from these other big companies.”

The “Zuckaissance” in Silicon Valley

Zuckerberg has become a leading advocate for open-source A.I., positioning himself at one end of a divisive debate. While companies like Microsoft and Google prefer closed A.I. systems for security reasons, Zuckerberg argues for broad accessibility.

“This technology is so important, and the opportunities are so great, that we should open source and make it as widely available as we responsibly can,” Zuckerberg said in a January Instagram video.

Meta’s A.I. Success Story

Since releasing its first fully open-source A.I. model, LLaMA 2, in July, Meta has seen tremendous success. The software has been downloaded over 180 million times. LLaMA 3, released in April, quickly topped download charts on Hugging Face, a popular community site for A.I. code.

Developers have created tens of thousands of customized A.I. programs using Meta’s software, from medical tools to digital chatbots. Patrick Collison, CEO of Stripe, praised the move, saying it’s the most popular thing Facebook has ever done in the tech community.

A New Leaf for Zuckerberg

Zuckerberg’s renewed popularity is notable given his history with developers. Meta’s past moves, like buying and then shutting down the developer tools company Parse, had left many developers wary.

Despite the mixed history, Zuckerberg’s current stance on open-source A.I. has won over many in the tech community. His decision to open source LLaMA was contentious within Meta, with policy and legal teams initially favoring a more conservative approach. However, technologists within the company, including Yann LeCun and Joelle Pineau, successfully argued for the benefits of an open model.

The Business of Open Source

Open sourcing LLaMA means giving away valuable technology without immediate returns, but Zuckerberg sees it as a long-term investment. As more developers use Meta’s tools, they are more likely to stay within its ecosystem, benefiting the company overall.

This strategy has not only helped Meta improve its own A.I. systems but also inspired competitors to open their models. Google, for instance, open sourced its Gemma A.I. models, and companies like Microsoft and Databricks have followed suit.

A Mixed Legacy, A Bright Future

Not all coders have forgotten Meta’s past issues. Sam McLeod, a developer from Australia, deleted his Facebook accounts due to privacy concerns. Yet, he acknowledges the value of Meta’s open-source A.I. models.

Matt Shumer, a developer in New York, has switched from closed A.I. models to Meta’s open-source alternatives. He believes Zuckerberg’s current efforts are genuinely beneficial for the open-source community.

“Developers have started to see past a lot of issues they’ve had with him and Facebook,” Shumer said. “Right now, what he’s doing is genuinely good for the open-source community.”

In Silicon Valley, it seems that Mark Zuckerberg has found a new role as a champion of open-source A.I., reshaping his image and influence in the tech world.

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