The legendary code and awardee of a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in VR, John Carmack has announced his resignation from his position of CTO at Facebook’s Oculus after six years of being a part of it.
The reason, as he revealed, is so that he can focus on Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), or AI that can pick up intellectual tasks like a human being does. That’s in contrast to the AI you see today, which is usually a very narrowly focused set of algorithms built for a specific task.
However, Carmack will still be part of Oculus, only now just as a “Consulting CTO” where he will “still have a voice” in the development work at the company. He states that he will become a ‘Consultant CTO’ for Oculus while pursuing a much more ambitious goal: Artificial General Intelligence.
He continues saying that I still want to contribute to Oculus along with general advisory tasks, for example, he will keep working on projects that maximize VR visual quality on lower-powered mobile hardware.
However, he says that VR will “only be consuming a modest slice of my time” while he works on AI.
“I have sometimes wondered how I would fare with a problem where the solution really isn’t in sight,” he said of the subject. “I decided that I should give it a try before I get too old.”
“When I think back over everything I have done across games, aerospace, and VR, I have always felt that I had at least a vague ‘line of sight’ to the solutions, even if they were unconventional or unproven,” Carmack wrote.
Carmack says that he has what he feels is a “non-negligible chance of making a difference” in his pursuit of artificial general intelligence, which I think of as “full AI,” where a machine can literally understand or learn anything that a human being can.
By contrast, the AI we see today in digital assistants and the like is “weak AI” or “narrow AI.”
AGI would allow an AI to move from one task to another as easily, or even better than a human being, without having the creators of the AI necessarily train or program in knowledge on how to do anything.
AGI is the end goal of current AI research, it’s like HAL 9000, Replicants and the Terminator. There are some good ones out there, too, such as Data and R2-D2, for instance.
He plans to pursue it from home, “Victorian Gentleman Scientist” style, and make his kid help. He said, “for the time being at least, I am going to be going about it ‘Victorian Gentleman Scientist’ style, pursuing my inquiries from home, and drafting my son into the work.”
It’s a bit like someone retiring early to dedicate their life full-time to the perpetual motion machine they’ve almost got working… except Carmack may actually have a chance to create something remarkable.
Carmack’s departure from Facebook will end his six-year-long journey at Oculus. He joined Oculusin 2013 when he left the company he founded, iD Software to push forward the future of virtual reality tech.
He is a rare combination of a technical mind combined with vision and creativity, leading him to skim the bleeding edge of technology and sometimes give it a serious push in some direction or another.
Carmack is known for his passionate and intensely geeky keynotes at the annual Oculus Connect conference, and he was instrumental in building the Gear VR, a phone-powered VR headset that was released before the consumer Oculus Rift and remains one of the most widely distributed headsets ever created.
He is most famous for his seminal and award-winning work at Id Software, where he led the development of several major, trend-setting 3D games: Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM, and Quake key among them and related technologies.
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