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Facebook names former IBM Watson executive as head of AI group

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. appointed a former IBM executive to be head of its artificial intelligence group, bringing in an experienced manager to navigate the company’s broadening ambitions for how AI can shape its products.

Jérôme Pesenti, former chief executive officer of AI startup BenevolentTech and before that a leader of International Business Machines Corp.’s Watson platform, will succeed Yann LeCun. LeCun, a prominent academic who started the group at Facebook years ago, retains a leadership role as the social media company’s chief AI scientist. The website Quartz earlier reported the management change.

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An employee fixes part of a web server inside the Facebook Inc. Prineville Data Center in Prineville, Oregon, U.S. Photographer: Meg Roussos/Bloomberg

The hiring of Pesenti, who has a more managerial background, may indicate that Facebook is looking to step up the application of its artificial intelligence research in its business, rather than just focusing on the academic exploration of the science. Facebook is trying to rely more on AI to help it spot and remove photos and videos that violate its policies, for example, instead of waiting for users to flag troublesome content. A Facebook spokesman said LeCun will still "set the scientific agenda for the group."

In a separate announcement late Monday, Gary Briggs, Facebook’s chief marketing officer, said he plans to retire. The executive said he wants to help the U.S. Democratic party win in midterm elections this year and in the 2020 presidential election.