Carmack has been a fixture at Facebook's Oculus Connect developer conferences, where he's championed VR technology. But now he says he wants to tackle the challenge of developing artificial general intelligence.
Legendary gaming developer John Carmack is stepping down as the full-time chief technology officer at Facebook's Oculus VR division to instead work on AI research.
"Starting this week, I'm moving to a 'Consulting CTO' position with Oculus," he said in a Facebook post on Wednesday. "I will still have a voice in the development work, but it will only be consuming a modest slice of my time."
Carmack, who joined Oculus in 2013, indicated that the decision was about finding a new challenge. "I have sometimes wondered how I would fare with a problem where the solution really isn't in sight. I decided that I should give it a try before I get too old," he said in the post.
His new challenge: working on artificial general intelligence (AGI), or AI that's capable of learning any task a human can do. Many of today's AI-powered algorithms have been designed to only accomplish one task, like editing an image. An AGI, on the other hand, would be smart enough to solve a whole gamut of society's problems.
"I think it is possible, enormously valuable, and that I have a non-negligible chance of making a difference there, so by a Pascal's Mugging sort of logic, I should be working on it," he said.
The research will also occur independently, outside Facebook. "For the time being at least, I am going to be going about it 'Victorian Gentleman Scientist' style, pursuing my inquiries from home, and drafting my son into the work," he said.
Facebook declined to comment. But the loss is significant; Carmack has been a fixture at the company's Oculus Connect developer conferences, where he's championed VR technology at a time when virtual reality headsets still haven't received widespread adoption.
"I'm often kind of grumpy around the office because I really haven't been satisfied with the pace of progress that we've been making," he said earlier this week. Ironically, he made the remark while accepting an award for lifetime achievement in the VR tech space.
Whether Facebook will name a new full-time CTO for Oculus is unclear. It declined to comment. All remaining co-founders to Oculus have previously left the company.