Google might’ve come up with the research that’s led to the current AI revolution, but the people behind it are no longer associated with the company.
All 6 authors of the “Attention is all you need paper” have now left Google. The latest to leave was Llion Jones, who has said he’s leaving the company, and will likely start his own venture after taking some time off. 5 of the other authors had previously left Google.
The “Attention is all you need paper” was published in June 2017. It introduced the concept of the transformer, and coupled it with the attention mechanism. While the paper had merely demonstrated the use of the transformer architecture for a simple translation task, researchers quickly found that it could serve host of other applications. The transformer architecture introduced in the paper forms the basis of much of the AI innovations of today, including ChatGPT.
The paper was written by 8 authors, 6 of whom were working with Google Brain at the time: Ashish Vaswani, Noam Shazeer, Niki Parmar, Jakob Uszkoreit, Llion Jones and Lukasz Kaiser. Lead author Ashish Vaswani left Google in November 2021 to launch Adept Labs. The same path was followed by Niki Parmar, who also co-founded Adept Labs in November 2021. Noam Shazeer left Google in October 2021 and launched Character AI, and Jakob Uszkoreit left Google in July 2021 and co-founded Inceptive. Lukasz Kaiser left in June 2021 and is now at OpenAI. The latest to leave is LLion Jones, who says he will also start a company.
It’s quite the exodus, but is perhaps to be expected — a few years after it was published, it was clear that the paper had indeed been path-breaking, and it’s possible that its authors were in high demand. They were likely courted by VCs, and encouraged to start their own companies. It’s also possible that these researchers felt that Google wasn’t sufficiently innovating with their research — OpenAI, in particular, applied the transformer to ChatGPT and quickly launched the product — and felt that their talents could be better used elsewhere.
Whatever the reasons behind their departures, it’s clear that while research at Google was the genesis of the current AI revolution, Google itself is no longer at the cutting edge of the field. Google managed to launch Bard relatively quickly after ChatGPT went viral, but by all accounts, it is significantly less powerful than GPT-4. GPT-4 has also come up with other innovations, such as plugins and code interpreter, which Bard doesn’t yet have. It remains to be seen if Google can catch up with OpenAI, but it’s already lost much of the talent that made today’s AI revolution possible.