Facebook Will Make Its Latest AI Model Free to Use

REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Illustration/File Photo
The Facebook logo is seen on a screen in this picture illustration taken December 2, 2019.

Facebook will make its cutting edge artificial intelligence technology freely available to the public to use for research and for building new moneymaking products, doubling down on an “open source” approach to the tech that has garnered both praise and criticism.

Facebook’s LLaMA 2 is a “large language model” – a highly complex algorithm trained on billions of words scraped from the open internet. It’s Facebook’s answer to Google’s Palm-2, which powers its AI tools, and OpenAI’s GPT4, the tech behind ChatGPT. App developers will be able to download the model directly from Facebook, or access it through cloud providers including Microsoft, Amazon and open source AI start-up Hugging Face.

The announcement shows how Facebook is doubling down on making its AI openly available, in contrast with companies like OpenAI and Google, which have chosen to keep the details of how their tech works secret and charge for access to it. It also drives home the point that Facebook doesn’t have a large cloud computing business through which to sell software directly to business customers, like Microsoft and Google do.

Having open access to a powerful language model could allow all kinds of start-ups and established companies to build their own AI tools rather than having to rely on deals with Microsoft, Google and OpenAI.

LLaMA 2 could be a “watershed moment,” Matt Bornstein, a partner with venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, said on Twitter. The capabilities of the model rivals recent versions of OpenAI’s tools, he added.

As Meta plays catch up with its rivals to produce new artificial intelligence powered services, the company has increasingly promoted the idea that such technology should be open sourced – meaning the underlying code is available for anyone to use. Meta argues that by making the technology freely available developers will be better able to create new and exciting AI products as well as new tools to protect the public.

“Open source drives innovation because it enables many more developers to build with new technology,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “It also improves safety and security because when software is open, more people can scrutinize it to identify and fix potential issues. I believe it would unlock more progress if the ecosystem were more open, which is why we’re open sourcing LLaMA 2.”

But critics say open sourced AI models could lead to the technology being misused. Earlier this year, Meta released LLaMA to a select group of researchers only for the model to be leaked and later used for applications ranging from drug discovery to sexually explicit chatbots. Last month, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) in June wrote to Zuckerberg arguing that in the short time generative artificial intelligence applications have become more widely available, they have already been misused for problematic content from pornographic deep fakes of real people to malware and phishing campaigns.

“Meta’s choice to distribute LLaMA in such an unrestrained and permissive manner raises important and complicated questions about when and how it is appropriate to openly release sophisticated AI models,” the senators wrote.

Meta said Tuesday its latest AI model has gone through “red-teaming” exercises, where human testers try to get it to make mistakes or produce offensive content, then train it to avoid those kinds of answers. The company also asks potential users to promise not to use it to promote terrorism, create child sex abuse material or discriminate against people.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also mentioned the partnership to distribute Facebook’s AI through its cloud business during a company event on Tuesday. Nadella announced a version of its Bing chatbot that would allow business customers to ask the bot questions about their company’s internal data and use it more fluidly at work.

Meta, which has dropped out of the ranks of the world’s most valuable tech companies in recent years, is pushing to show that it can be a leader in the generative AI boom surrounding the new crop of chatbots and image generators. In recent months, Zuckerberg and other executives have been touting the company’s investment in AI research and computing infrastructure, as well as new products such as an internal productivity assistant, a generative AI-based advertising product and a new photo-generation tool.

The AI announcements follow months of sluggish financial performance and a litany of challenges facing Meta’s business. New privacy rules from Apple, rising inflation and a post-pandemic slump in e-commerce market growth hurt the company’s digital advertising business. Over the last half a year, Meta has laid off more than 20,000 workers as part of a larger effort to flatten the workforce and become more efficient. Still, stock prices have risen drastically this year amid the company’s efforts to tighten its belt.

Meta has also been vocal in pushing back against scenarios proposed by a rising number of prominent AI leaders, including Elon Musk and Google chief AI researcher Demis Hassabis, who say the tech is advancing so quickly it might surpass human intelligence within 10 years.

Meta Global Affairs President Nick Clegg has urged regulators not to fear the doomsday scenarios and rush to clamp down on AI models altogether, arguing that some of the potential “existential threats” that critics have raised are just hypothetical and still a long ways off. Instead, Clegg has argued that AI should be regulated in a way that values keeping the technology open and available.

“No one thinks the kind of models that we’re looking at [with] Llama one or Llama version two are even remotely knocking on the door of these kind of high-capability [AI models] that might require some specialized regulatory licensing treatment,” Clegg told The Washington Post earlier this month.