BGI CEO steps down to escalate interest in artificial intelligence

Jun Wang

Jun Wang has stepped down as CEO of BGI. Wang, a 16-year veteran of BGI, led the business as it evolved into a dominant force in genomics, but has now decided to pursue his long-standing interest in artificial intelligence without the burden of also serving as CEO.

BGI posted news of Wang's departure in a note on its website that was spotted by Nature News. Wang is to remain affiliated with BGI but will no longer shape policy at the sequencing giant. Exactly what awaits for Wang is unclear, with BGI just saying the move is intended to free him up to work on research into artificial intelligence. Wang, a bioinformatician who built data crunching infrastructure to support BGI's colossal sequencing operations, has expressed an interest in exploring artificial intelligence in the past.

"He was always interested in the brain," Duke University's Erich Jarvis told Nature News. Jarvis, who works as a neuroscientist at the Durham, NC, university, said this manifested in an unfulfilled interest in artificial intelligence. "Running a genome company, he couldn't get to it as much as he liked," Jarvis said. Wang told Jarvis of his decision to step down at a meeting recently. "His reasoning was that he felt like he's done a lot for BGI already, and that he would like to now move on to try new horizons," Jarvis said.

The decision is potentially both a notable loss to BGI and boost to the world of artificial intelligence. Having founded BGI's bioinformatics unit and hoovered up young talent to handle the ever-growing pool of data, Wang's influence at the company grew to the point at which he came to be seen as a driving force behind the business. With Wang calling the shots, BGI established itself at the forefront big sequencing initiatives, including programs to map the genomes of 10,000 vertebrates and a similar number of birds. Wang will now apply this ambition to artificial intelligence.

"If it's something big--something difficult--then his answer is, 'Let's do it'," Jarvis said.

- read Nature News' article

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