Zuckerberg’s Free AI Is a Clever Form of Bait

There’s a persistent mystery about Mark Zuckerberg, and it’s not the one about his new chain necklace. The chief executive officer of Meta Platforms Inc. has spent billions of dollars building powerful artificial intelligence models and is giving that technology away for free. Why?

Zuckerberg recently argued that “open sourcing” LLaMA, his AI model for training chatbots, prevents power from being concentrated in a single company.

Maybe take that explanation with a pinch of salt. This, after all, comes from a man who consolidated control in social media by buying and copying his competitors, and who has near-dictatorial control over Meta with more than 50% of total voting power.

Like any good Silicon Valley tycoon, Zuckerberg has slapped a benevolent label on an effort to extract value for his company. The real reason he’s sharing his AI probably has more to do with trying to make life more difficult for his competitors, as well as improving Meta’s reputation so it can lure more experienced AI engineers. One day, it might also allow him to explore new ways to enhance his advertising business. Investors should rejoice, and AI developers with humanitarian ideals should think twice about joining him.

Getting to this point took a fortuitous bet by Zuckerberg. At the end of 2022, just before OpenAI released GPT-4, he placed a large order for graphical processing units — powerful chips used for building most AI systems — with Nvidia Corp., according to an interview he gave to the Verge. He aimed to improve the recommendation system for Reels, Meta’s short-form video clone of TikTok, but it turned out Zuckerberg was inadvertently stockpiling the most coveted ingredients in tech, the powerful AI chips that are now in short supply.