Facebook hires Google ‘moonshot’ exec for R&D – USA TODAY

6 months ago Comments Off on Facebook hires Google ‘moonshot’ exec for R&D – USA TODAY

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook is stealing some of Google’s moonshot magic.

Facebook on Wednesday said it has hired Regina Dugan — who helped shape such Google initiatives as Project Tango (3-D mapping capability for mobile devices), Project Ara (tools for building modular smartphones) and smart fabrics wired with electronics — to head a research-and-product-development group considered vital to Facebook’s 10-year technology road map.

She reports to Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer.

Dugan will lead Building 8, a new group “focused on building new hardware products to advance our mission of connecting the world,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a comment posted on his Facebook profile today. (Building 8 gets its name from the number of letters in Facebook. No building by that number exists on the company’s Menlo Park, Calif., campus, a company spokesman said.)

Zuckerberg’s 10-year vision for the company relies on major technological breakthroughs on three main fronts: artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and bringing Internet access to the 4 billion or so people who don’t have it.

“I’m excited to have Regina apply DARPA-style breakthrough development at the intersection of science and products to our mission,” Zuckerberg said. “This method is characterized by aggressive, fixed timelines, extensive use of partnerships with universities, small and large businesses, and clear objectives for shipping products at scale.”

Facebook is dedicating hundreds of people and hundreds of millions of dollars into the effort over the next few years, as the social networking giant pursues a decade-long plan to develop products and services in virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, connectivity and other areas.

Dugan, who led the Advanced Technology and Projects group at Google, and before that was director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, was unavailable for comment.

“We thank Regina Dugan for all her leadership and contributions as part of the Advanced Technology and Projects group, and wish her the very best,” Google spokeswoman Gina Scigliano said in a statement.

In poaching Dugan, Facebook has escalated competition with its Silicon Valley neighbor. The tech giants are matching wits for consumers, and advertising dollars, worldwide in the emerging fields of virtual reality, artificial intelligence, video and connecting billions to the Internet.

Dugan maybe be crucial to Facebook’s plan to connect everyone on Earth. Nearly half of the world’s 7 billion inhabitants do not have Internet access, Zuckerberg said in a keynote speech yesterday, announcing the 10-year plan.

“I’m super excited to get to know her,” Joaquin Quinonero Candela, director of Facebook’s Applied Machine Learning, told USA TODAY.

Academics are particularly intrigued by Dugan’s background at DARPA, the Defense Department agency whose technologies have contributed to advances in 3-D mapping, battlefield robots and the Internet.

“Being at DARPA, which created the Internet, makes this an especially interesting hire,” says Betsy Page Sigman, professor of operations and information management at Georgetown University. “Her background shows an ability to switch gears on major projects. It’s as important to know when to pursue something as when to cut bait.”

Follow USA TODAY San Francisco Bureau Chief @jswartz

Facebook hires Google ‘moonshot’ exec for R&D – USA TODAY

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