ByteDance AI Lab Director Confirms Resignation; Scientists Leave the Business Tower for the Ivory Tower

Recently, ByteDance has had a change up of personnel. Li Lei, ByteDance’s AI Lab director, left his post and joined the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) as an assistant professor. His information as a teacher is now available on UCSB’s website.

Li Lei is one of the authoritative Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) scientists of our time. At present, he has published and presented more than 40 papers about machine learning, data mining and understanding natural language at top international academic conferences.

Li Lei, former ByteDance’s AI Lab director (Source: Sina)

He joined ByteDance in 2016 as the director of the AI Lab and was responsible for the technical direction in addition to the short-term and long-term technical development goals. His team focuses on how to use AI to build better content creation and distribution platforms for users and creators.

The reasons for his departure are not clear, though Li has always aimed to “do research and really deliver significant value to the business”. When he worked at Baidu Research in the United States, Li said he valued the people, things, and prospects of the projects he took part in.

Li Lei’s resignation reflects change of structure in ByteDance’s AI Lab, and shows some of the movement that’s happening between academic and industry. Just a year ago, Ma Weiying, Vice President of Bytedance and Director of AI Lab, also announced his departure from the company in order to join the Institute for AI Industry Research at Tsinghua University.

Before Ma Weiying and Li Lei left ByteDance, there was a “trend of scientists leaving” the AI industry. At this time last year, Wei Xiushen, the former head of Megvii in Nanjing, left his post and joined Nanjing’s University of Science and Technology as a professor. Even earlier, Zhang Tong, director of Tencent AI Lab, Andrew Ng, chief scientist of Baidu, Dr. Fei-Fei Li, a well-known scientist of Google, and other AI specialists have left the Internet giants and joined academia.

Machine Energy (Ji Qi Zhi Neng), a Chinese high-tech media company, reports that the AI industry is in full swing and many companies are at the threshold of having to “make money.” CloudWalk, the first share of AI, has just completed its meeting on the STAR Market. The biggest pressure from China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) on AI innovation companies is the sustained loss and uncertainty of future profit models.

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At this stage, investors and AI companies are arguably facing substantial challenges, given the slow adoption of AI products and services and the abysmal return on investment these companies are showing. Such a mixture of uncertainty may be a cause for academically-inclined scientists to leave the industry side of things and return to their academic roots.