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Emad Mostaque is the founder and CEO of Stability AI, a unicorn startup that exploded into the zeitgeist in October of 2022 with a billion-dollar valuation. It celebrated with what the New York Times called a “coming-out party” at the San Francisco Exploratorium that felt like a “return to pre-pandemic exuberance.”
Stability AI’s claim to fame was its viral open-source AI text-to-image generator, Stable Diffusion, which quickly, along with another open-source option, Midjourney, seemed to supplant OpenAI’s DALL-E 2 as the generative image tools of choice. It also attracted the attention of legendary singer-songwriter Peter Gabriel, who recently partnered with Stability AI to launch a global AI animation challenge called Diffuse Together.
Over the past year, Mostaque has also become something of a hype man in the world of open source AI, even taking his message to the U.S. Capitol. But behind the scenes, Mostaque’s story is unraveling. A recent Forbes investigation revealed that he lied about his background, his achievements, and his partnerships. He is reported to have overstated his credentials, inflated his hedge fund experience, misled investors and customers, and exaggerated an Amazon deal. He also took credit for Stable Diffusion’s success, while downplaying the role of his co-founders and employees.
Is the Stability AI party coming to an end? And how did Peter Gabriel get involved in this mess? We caught up with Mostaque after he hosted a live Twitch broadcast with Gabriel to announce the finalists of the Diffuse Together challenge — and after he published a blog post called “On Setting the Record Straight,” in which he detailed, with bullet points, the “countless false accusations and misrepresentations in this Forbes story.” He agreed to answer our questions and clear the air about the controversy. Here’s what he had to say. (Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
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VentureBeat: How did you feel about the Forbes article?
Emad Mostaque: It was really sad. I [had just] spent last Saturday with the new owners [of Forbes] discussing AI and media. I didn’t want to kill the article, I just asked they be accurate. They ignored our factual corrections.
VB: Did you feel blindsided by the Forbes piece or did you know how it was being presented? I know you said there were inaccuracies, but did you have an idea of what they were going for?
Mostaque: We issued factual corrections they ignored. They had huge numbers of false allegations and we knocked them down one by one. They did a two-hour interview with our head of research. We sent them the exact wording and asked them for details of leaked decks so we could give precise responses. It is not normal to build a 4,000 A100 cluster! We did that before funding! It was the 8th fastest in the world! And what was that about the Master’s degree? I forgot to send the £60 cheque in. And [as far as] Stable Diffusion, we showed them this — the two lead authors (Robin, Andreas) plus Dominik all work at Stability. And they say “the original researchers” as if they were different! It is actually unprofessional.
VB: Are you saying that you did all the coursework for the MA but just didn’t send the check to get the diploma? Just wanted to be clear about what you meant.
Mostaque: Yes. I don’t technically have a BA or MA because I missed the ceremony and didn’t send the form to get it sent [to me] by mail.
VB: And it sounds like they had a fact-checker speak with you to go over everything before publication? Or did they fact-check over email?
Mostaque: All via email over a month. They ignored several things in the final email. I am neuroatypical and very direct, [but] over a hundred interviews this is all they could find. They came and did three days with us, [with] full access, too.
VB: You have mentioned your work on autism previously related to your family [Mostaque’s son is autistic]. I do think it’s too bad they did not mention that.
Mostaque: They [did] and mock it basically: “Mostaque is unfazed. Stability has a seasoned technical leader to spearhead research: himself. He claims to have discovered a bespoke medical treatment for autism years ago by using AI to analyze existing scientific literature and build a knowledge graph of molecular compounds. (Bishara said the research was done privately and declined to elaborate further.)”
Remember, David Ha is our head of research who is most respected in generative AI, with whom the reporters did a two-hour interview. He was head of Google Brain in Tokyo.
VB: Can you say what kind of feedback you’ve gotten so far on the article?
Mostaque: The response has been supportive. Those that don’t know me have their opinions. Those that do usually like me and know I know my stuff. I was an enterprise developer at age 18, at the top UK software company writing assembler and did computer science at Oxford having only got my first computer at seventeen.
VB: You said earlier that you are neuroatypical and direct. Are you saying that you think people sometimes misinterpret your straightforwardness as hype or exaggeration?
Mostaque: Yes, they do.
VB: I’m also still unclear about the AWS thing: “But Bratin Saha, a vice president for the Seattle tech giant’s AI arm, told Forbes in January that Stability is “accessing AWS infrastructure no different than what our other customers do.” Are you saying that this isn’t the case?
Mostaque: We have more GPUs than just about anyone in a unique structure, single spline, created before our funding round. The way we accessed at that time was EC2, a reserved dedicated instance — but that scale is typically only available to Meta, Apple, etc. On the Top 500 global list the cluster would have scored around 8th if we submitted it.
VB: But just overall I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about why you or Stability AI is being focused on — in the Semafor piece and this one. I mean, Sam Altman is on a world tour…OpenAI has a lot of hype going on too
Mostaque: We are not a normal company in the most [focused] area [of tech] in the world. In 18 months we built the only independent multimodal AI company except OpenAI, on 50x less spending. It’s right that we should get focus and scrutiny. [But] it is not right that we should have factual inaccuracies and slanted coverage. I love journalism and want to help journalists, so I am sad.
VB: So what now? What’s your next step? Does this change your relationship with the media, does it change your outlook in any way?
Mostaque: No, just build and do good stuff. Don’t talk to people who choose to ignore facts and try to do click bait. Move on. I have found financial journalists better than tech journalists in general.
VB: How was it working with Peter Gabriel on the AI animation challenges?
Mostaque: He’s great. He made a great statement on it. Solid guy. I’m helping him with his new concert tour. The videos are awesome. I’m working with him on a number of AI-related things to be announced. It’s going to be insane over the next year. This is why articles like Forbes are so saddening.
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