Elon Musk and Yann LeCun’s social media feud highlights key differences in approaches to AI research and hype

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Over Memorial Day weekend, while most Americans were firing up their grills and enjoying a cold barbecue, Yann LeCunMeta’s lead AI scientist, and Elon Musk, the enigmatic CEO of Tesla and xAI, were engaged in a no-holds-barred digital fuss on X.com (formerly Twitter). This clash between the AI ​​titans exposed some of the major fault lines in the rapidly evolving, hype-fueled field of artificial intelligence.

The online feud emerged on Sunday, May 26, when LeCun threw shade at Musk, who was promoting job openings at his new AI startup xAI. LeCun’s tweet was a masterclass in snark: “Join xAI if you can tolerate a boss who: claims what you’re working on will be fixed next year (no pressure), claims that what you’re working on will kill everyone and should be stopped or paused (yes, vacation for 6 months!), claims to want a ‘maximally rigorous pursuit of the truth’, but spews crazy conspiracy theories on his own social platform.”

Musk, never one to shy away from a fight, came out swinging. “What ‘science’ have you been doing in the past 5 years?” he posted, questioning LeCun’s recent contributions to the field. LeCun had no intention of letting that go: “More than 80 technical articles published since January 2022. And you?”

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The godfather of convolutional neural networks versus the self-proclaimed savior of humanity

LeCun, 63, is a bona fide AI legend, one of the pioneers of deep learning, the groundbreaking technology that now powers everything from chatbots to self-driving cars. In 1989, as a researcher at Bell Labs, he co-authored an article introducing convolutional neural networks, a fundamental architecture of deep learning. “Every driver assistance system today uses ConvNets,” LeCun wrote, and he’s not wrong.

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Musk, 52, has had a more tumultuous relationship with the AI ​​research community, despite his companies’ heavy reliance on the technology. His startup xAI has the lofty goal of building artificial general intelligence, or human-level AI — an ambition that many experts say is overblown. Meanwhile, Tesla’s self-driving technology, which Musk has repeatedly hyped as being on the cusp of full autonomy, relies heavily on deep learning systems initially developed in academic labs like LeCun’s.

The importance of sharing scientific knowledge in the age of trade secrecy

“Technological wonders do not simply emerge from the vacuum,” LeCun wrote. “They are built on years (sometimes decades) of scientific research that makes them possible. Research ideas and results are shared through technical articles. Without this sharing of scientific information, technological progress would slow down.”

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Musk, in true Muskian fashion, has dismissed the importance of scientific publishing and claimed that Tesla no longer uses convolutional neural networks in its self-driving stack. LeCun didn’t believe it: “I’m curious how you can gain real-time insight into camera images [Full Self-Driving] without ConvNets, TBH.”

In an era where trade secrecy around AI development is becoming the norm, as evidenced by the closed labs of OpenAI and Google DeepMind, many experts still view timely and transparent scientific publication as essential to the long-term health of the field . Clem Delangue, co-founder of AI startup Hugging Face, summed it up nicely: “The scientists who openly publish their groundbreaking research are the cornerstone of technological progress and contribute enormously to improving the world!”

The future of AI: a tale of two visions

Both Meta and xAI have had eventful years in their quest for AI supremacy. Meta recently released a great language model called LLaMA 3 and it is by integrating similar technologies into its social apps like Instagram and WhatsApp, while you look at it market value slips away. Meanwhile, xAI announced a whopping $6 billion in fundraising, while Musk promises to build “artificial general intelligence,” though the details of his master plan remain vague at best.

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LeCun and Musk, two of the most influential figures in AI, have distinctly different views on the future of this transformative technology. But if this holiday weekend is any indication, the debates that will shape that future are increasingly playing out openly, one tweet at a time. And we are for it, for example. Pass the popcorn.

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