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Amazon Hires Adept AI Founders, Licenses Their Tech

Amazon just hired the founders and key employees from Adept AI, a startup known for building AI agents that automate enterprise tasks.  This move is meant to significantly beef up Amazon’s AI firepower—which so far has been lackluster compared to its rivals.

David Luan, Adept’s co-founder and CEO, is jumping ship to lead Amazon’s “AGI Autonomy” team. He’ll report to Rohit Prasad, Amazon’s artificial general intelligence (AGI) chief. Luan’s bringing along fellow Adept co-founders Augustus Odena, Maxwell Nye, Erich Elsen, and Kelsey Szot, plus a handful of other Adept staffers.

Here is a copy of an internal memo that was shared with the team:

Hi all – We’re always looking to add outstanding talent to advance our mission, and I’m excited to share a few updates with the team.
Please join me in welcoming David Luan, the Founder and former CEO of Adept, as well as his co-founders Augustus Odena, Maxwell Nye, Erich Elsen, and Kelsey Szot, and a few other deeply talented team members to our AGI team. David and his team’s expertise in training state-of-the-art multimodal foundational models and building real-world digital agents aligns with our vision to delight consumer and enterprise customers with practical AI solutions. Amazon is also licensing Adept’s agent technology, family of state-of-the-art multimodal models, and a few datasets, which will accelerate our roadmap for building digital agents that can automate software workflows.
David will report into me as the leader of the “AGI Autonomy” team, and most of the team we are hiring will report through David. A few Product Design employees will report into Devices & Services through Mark Yoshitake.
David will also take ownership of our Automations team, and Shiv Vitaladevuni and his team will now report to David. The Automations team will remain focused on using foundational models to automate and optimize end-to-end workflows in virtual and physical environments.
Several of Adept’s prior team will remain part of Adept, where they will be continuing to operate independently with a product-focused mission.
I’m excited to welcome our new team members and believe that their expertise, experience, and entrepreneurial spirit will significantly help us on our quest to achieving AGI. Please cascade this email to your teams as needed.

This move didn’t come out of the blue. The Information reported back in May that Adept was shopping itself around to potential buyers, including Meta. The startup, once valued at over $1 billion, was feeling the heat from skyrocketing costs of training and running AI models, not to mention fierce competition from tech giants.

Amazon also secured a non-exclusive license for some of Adept’s technology, including AI models and datasets. This could speed up Amazon’s AI development, especially in creating digital agents for workflow automation.

Adept isn’t folding. They’ll keep operating independently, with former engineering head Zach Brock stepping up as CEO. The company claims it’ll focus on “agentic AI solutions” using its remaining tech and talent.

This sort of talent grab is becoming a pattern in the AI world. Tech giants are snatching up startups and their brainpower left and right, often as these smaller companies struggle to keep up. Microsoft pulled the same move earlier this year, raiding Inflection AI. They poached Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of both DeepMind and Inflection AI, and made him the new Executive Vice President and CEO of Microsoft AI. Suleyman didn’t come alone – he brought Inflection co-founder Karén Simonyan and a team of top engineers with him.

Inflection AI Pivots as CEO Mustafa Suleyman Joins Microsoft to Lead New AI Division

The addition of Suleyman and the formation of the Microsoft AI team is expected to accelerate the company’s pace of innovation in the consumer AI domain.

For startups like Inflection and Adept, the cost of developing and running advanced AI models is skyrocketing, making it tough to compete with deep-pocketed tech giants. These talent grabs are as much about survival for the startups as they are about growth for the big players.

However, regulators are starting to smell blood. The Federal Trade Commission is eyeing these AI deals, including Amazon’s investment in Anthropic and Microsoft’s cozy relationships with OpenAI.

For Amazon, this move is a clear power play in its AI strategy. The company’s been trying to flex its AI muscles across its empire, from AWS to Alexa, but with mixed results. Rumors are swirling about internal chaos as the company scrambles to deliver a souped-up Alexa this fall that’s supposed to rival ChatGPT. This talent grab could be just what Amazon needs to jumpstart its lagging AI efforts.

Chris McKay is the founder and chief editor of Maginative. His thought leadership in AI literacy and strategic AI adoption has been recognized by top academic institutions, media, and global brands.

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