Who is DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman and why has he joined Microsoft?

Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of DeepMind, former CEO of Inflection AI, and chief executive of Microsoft AI, pictured at day three of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Microsoft has hired DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman as head of its consumer AI division.

Suleyman, one of the biggest names in AI, will be CEO of Microsoft AI, and joins the senior leadership team reporting directly to Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella.

The appointment, which marks a major coup for Microsoft in the ongoing generative AI race, will see him lead research on AI products spanning its Copilot, Bing, and Edge offerings.

“I’ve known Mustafa for several years and have greatly admired him as a founder of both DeepMind and Inflection, and as a visionary, product maker, and builder of pioneering teams that go after bold missions,” Nadella said in a statement.

“These teams are at the vanguard of innovation at Microsoft, bringing a new entrant energy and ethos to a changing consumer product landscape driven by the AI platform shift,” he added.

“We have a real shot to build technology that was once thought impossible and that lives up to our mission to ensure the benefits of AI reach every person and organization on the planet, safely and responsibly.”

Microsoft has been spending a lot of time and money to position itself at the front of the ongoing race for AI talent. In November last year, Nadella had hoped to hire OpenAI chief Sam Altman as head of a new advanced AI research team due to the chaos that erupted at the firm.

However, after a dramatic few days, Altman returned to OpenAI.

Who is Mustafa Suleyman?

Suleyman joins Microsoft having most recently served as CEO of Inflection AI, of which he was also a co-founder. Much like other startups in the AI space over the last two years, Inflection experienced rapid growth during the early days of the generative AI ‘boom’.

In June last year, Inflection revealed it had raised an additional $1.3 billion in funding led by Microsoft, Reid Hoffman, Bill Gates, Eric Schmidt, and Nvidia, taking its total funding to $1.525 billion.

At the time, the company said it was building the largest AI cluster in the world based on 22,000 Nvidia H100 Tensor Core GPUs to power its ‘’Pi’ personal AI assistant. Pi’s millions of users have shared over 4 billion messages and the product has grown to six million users.

Following Suleyman’s departure, the company has appointed Sean White as CEO and also announced that Inflection-2.5 will be hosted on Microsoft Azure.

Before founding Inflection, Suleyman was one of the founders of AI company DeepMind. The UK-based AI firm was a pioneer in the field of deep reinforcement learning and using games to test its systems.

One program called DQN learned to play 49 different Atari games from scratch by observing the pixels on the screen. In 2015, DeepMind’s AlphaGo, was the first computer program to defeat a Go world champion, and in 2019 its AlphaStar managed to beat a top professional player at StarCraft II.

Google acquired DeepMind for a reported $400 million in 2014.

“Over his ten years at the company Mustafa led the applied research and commercialization efforts, helped establish DeepMind as the global leader in AI R&D and ethics, and contributed to numerous high impact research publications,” his own website notes.

A proponent of 'AI containment'

In September 2023, Suleyman published a book titled The Coming Wave: Technology, Power, and the 21st Century’s Greatest Dilemma, which looked at the impact of the rise of AI.

The coming wave of AI will usher in a “new dawn for humanity creating wealth and surplus unlike anything we've ever seen”, he said, but the rapid proliferation of these technologies could also lead to disruption, instability, and even catastrophe.

As he explained in a video promoting the book, this wave will create an “immense dilemma that will define the century ahead of us. Our future both depends on these technologies and yet it is also imperiled by them.”

His answer, in the book, is a “containment program” working in 10 concentric layers.

This starts with development of the technology itself and moves out from there, potentially even using “choke points on the whole ecosystem” to buy time for regulators and defensive technologies”.

Suleyman is also a senior fellow at The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School working on the geostrategic challenges of future AI systems, and a board member at The Economist.

Steve Ranger

Steve Ranger is an award-winning reporter and editor who writes about technology and business. Previously he was the editorial director at ZDNET and the editor of silicon.com.