Snap Picks Up Facebook's Machine Learning Expert

In an effort to grow its research and development, Snap Inc, the company behind Snapchat and the Snap Spectacles, have poached one of Facebook's experts in machine learning. Facebook's engineering director of the core machine learning Hussein Mehanna joined Snap last month as director of engineering of Snap's research group, which was established in 2015. Jia Li, the former head of Snap's research efforts, had left for Alphabet in November, and the group is now manned by David Salesin, who joined Snap from Adobe Research in February, and Joel Brandt.

Mehanna was hired by Facebook in 2012. At Facebook, his machine learning group worked with the social network's artificial intelligence research group. CNBC reported that Mehanna and his team worked on software for understanding the context of users' text. Since his hire, other technology firms have made bigger investments in machine learning and artificial intelligence, including Alphabet, which operates Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft.

Most recently, Snap has made considerable investments in its research, and the company reported $805 million in research expenses during the first quarter, a significant increase from $28 million a year prior. Snap attributes the increase in research and development staff as one factor for the rising expense, but another reason is that IPO stock awards were paid out to employees. Snap reported that the headcount in this division increased by approximately 260 percent.

As rival social networks are imitating features from Snapchat, it makes sense that Snap is doubling down on research. Rival Facebook, which operates Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, had recently copied some of the social features in Snapchat for video chats on its own platforms. In addition to leveraging the camera hardware on smartphones to deliver new video and social experiences, Snap is also experimenting with its own hardware. The company's Snap Spectacles were initially only offered for sale in vending machines in pop-up cities. Earlier this year, however, Snap made its Spectacles more broadly available online, and the sunglasses, which records video clips and captures images that can be shared on Snapchat, is now a multi-million dollar business for the company. During its most recent earnings call, Snap executives promised that the company will continue to experiment with new hardware.

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