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Mark Zuckerberg did not see the GenAI wave coming. He prepared anyway.

Kali Hays   

Mark Zuckerberg did not see the GenAI wave coming. He prepared anyway.
  • Meta acquired a horde of GPUs to change its algorithm, not to build generative-AI tools.
  • But Mark Zuckerberg decided to buy twice as many GPUs as Meta needed, just in case.

When Mark Zuckerberg started amassing a large amount of GPUs in 2022, it wasn't for anything related to generative artificial intelligence.

Instead, the Meta CEO and cofounder was still focused on the metaverse and thought the graphics processing units, mostly from Nvidia, would be used for ranking content and be a big change to its algorithmic system for Reels, Instagram, and Facebook.

The algorithm went from one based on who a user was following to one based on "unconnected content," or a system that shows a user content from all over an app, typically based on anything they've interacted with. It's an algorithmic style made famous by TikTok, which for a time was growing faster than Meta's apps.

Zuckerberg started to buy up GPUs and change Meta's algorithms and related training infrastructure so Reels could "catch up to what TikTok was doing," he told the podcaster Dwarkesh Patel in an interview, in which the CEO promoted last week's expanded release of the Meta AI chatbot tool and Meta's Llama 3 model.

"We thought it was going to be something that had to do with training large models," he said, adding: "At that time, I was so deep into just trying to get the recommendations working for Reels and other content because, I mean, that's such a big unlock for Facebook and Instagram to now be able to show people content that's interesting to them, from people they're not even following."

Despite generative AI not being on Zuckerberg's mind until OpenAI's ChatGPT tool exploded onto the tech scene, he did what he could to be ready for the unexpected. Having been caught off guard amid other step changes in tech — the shift to mobile, the political manipulation of content, short-form video — Zuckerberg didn't want to be unpleasantly surprised, yet again.

When speaking with Patel about the need to catch up with TikTok, Zuckerberg said: "I basically looked at that, and I was like: 'Hey, we have to make sure that we're never in this situation again. So let's order enough GPUs to do what we need to do on Reels and ranking content and feed. But let's also double that.' Again, our normal principle is that there's going to be something on the horizon that we can't see yet."

The CEO admitted that doubling Meta's investment in GPUs on the off chance the company would need them "was a good decision in retrospect" — one that he made because of so many perceived mistakes in the past.

"It came from being behind. It wasn't like, 'Oh, I was so far ahead,'" Zuckerberg said. "Actually, most of the time, I think where we kind of make some decisions that end up seeming good is because we messed something up before and just do not want to repeat the mistake."

Are you a Meta employee or someone with a tip or insight to share? Contact Kali Hays at khays@businessinsider.com or on the secure messaging app Signal at 949-280-0267. Reach out using a non-work device.

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