Facebook today announced that it plans to cancel its 2020-2021 in-person AI Residency program as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In a statement provided to VentureBeat via email, Facebook vice president of AI Jerome Pesenti said that the decision was motivated by health and safety concerns.

“We continue to put the health and safety of our community first as we respond to changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, we have decided not to move forward with the 2020-2021 AI Residency Program,” Pesenti said. “An optimal and consistent hands-on residency experience is critically important to the program’s success, and this isn’t possible in a remote format. We look forward to keeping in touch with this year’s candidates for future opportunities.”

When asked why the program was canceled outright rather than delayed, a Facebook spokesperson said this could have created timing conflicts with students’ graduation dates, Ph.D. applications, and academic conference deadlines. They added that current residents’ programs will be extended to help give them additional time to finish their research, and that Facebook remains committed to offering residencies where and when it’s possible to do so.

Facebook’s AI Residency program is a paid one-year position that pairs applicants with a Facebook AI researcher and an engineer. With the team, residents pick a research problem of mutual interest and devise new machine learning techniques to solve it. Facebook encourages collaborations beyond the assigned mentors and ensures the research is communicated to the academic community, chiefly by submitting papers to academic venues like NeurIPS, ICLR, and CVPR as well as open source code releases and/or Facebook products.

Facebook isn’t alone in offering an AI residency program, though it’s one of the few that prohibits remote participation. OpenAI, Google, IBM, and Microsoft, among others, provide opportunities for students and professionals to conduct research alongside programmers, data scientists, and product managers.

The pandemic has impacted a number of Facebook’s operations, including physical events and work out of its offices globally. In April, the company said it would refrain from hosting conferences with 50 or more people through at least June 2021, and it continues to allow full-time employees to work from home.

In a blog post published in March, Facebook Research director Daron Green said the company was “planning new ways” to foster its online research community and support remote collaboration and networking, for example through Q&As with researchers and facilitated virtual networking. “We are dedicated to continuing our research activities and specifically our external academic investments, despite the challenges we are all facing,” he wrote. “These investments include conference sponsorships, requests for proposals, our fellowship program, university lab investments, and sponsored research.”


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