Why Facebook chose to open its first European A.I. lab in Paris and not London

Director of Facebook AI Research Yann LeCun

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Facebook’s chief AI scientist has revealed why the social media giant decided to open an AI research lab in Paris as opposed to London or another European city.

The Facebook AI Research (FAIR) unit was first announced in late 2013 and the company said at the time it would set up a European branch. After considering its options, Facebook launched FAIR Paris in 2015.

“The original idea was to open it in London,” said Yann LeCun on a press call. “It would be the logical place for Facebook given that Facebook has a large engineering lab in London.”

Facebook has thousands of staff in London and it employs more technical people in the U.K. capital than it does in any other European city.

LeCun said after some analysis it turned out that “the ecosystem of talent was much more open and available in continental Europe, and particularly in Paris.”

“Clearly, there is a lot more competition in London than there is in Paris,” LeCun told CNBC in a follow up Q&A. “In London there was DeepMind, Microsoft Research in Cambridge, and there were a couple of others.”

He said they “occupied the terrain” and there were some concerns about “going on their turf.”

FAIR Paris is now one of Facebook’s three main AI labs worldwide along with New York and Menlo Park, California.

It is home to about 30 permanent research scientists and 20 research engineers, LeCun said. Unlike Facebook’s other AI labs, FAIR Paris is also home to a large number of resident PhD students.

Tech companies have spent the last decade aggressively bulking up their AI teams with machine-learning experts capable of building software that can learn how to perform tasks itself.

Google acquired DeepMind for a reported $600 million in 2014 and today it competes directly with the Facebook AI Research group and other AI labs like OpenAI, which was cofounded by Elon Musk.

DeepMind, which sits under Google parent company Alphabet today, employs around 1,000 people and the overwhelming majority of those are based in London.

FAIR also now has smaller sites in Seattle, Pittsburgh, Tel Aviv, Montreal and London.

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