Google buys UK artificial intelligence start-up DeepMind for £400m

London-based company focused on “cutting edge artificial intelligence" could supply the brains for Google's burgeoning robotics division

Media Editor

A former child chess prodigy and computer game designer from London has sold his company to Google for around £300m in one of the Internet giant’s largest European acquisitions.

Demis Hassabis, a computer scientist, is understood to have struck the deal with Google for his secretive start-up business Deep Mind Technologies, which specialises in artificial intelligence (AI) for computers.

Hassabis, 37, has built the company by bringing together neuroscientists and computer engineers in an effort to use technology and medical research to help machines to mimic the brain’s ability to improve performance. He previously led a study at University College London in 2009 that scanned human brains and found “just by looking at neural activity we were able to say what someone was thinking”.

Google founder Larry Page, who has expressed interest in making search commands easier by having an implant in the brain, is understood to have led the move to buy Deep Mind. Google is exploring smart technology that will enable it to go into space travel and create self-driving cars.

The website The Information claimed that Google had beaten Facebook to the acquisition and had sealed the deal after agreeing to set up an ethics board to ensure that the AI technology was not abused.

IBM recently pledged $1 billion to fund Watson (above) - its own 'cognitive computing' machine that its hoped will one day understand the nuances of human language.

Hassabis is known within the computer gaming industry for having “a brain larger than a planet”. He began playing chess when he was four years old, reached Master Standard by the age of 13 and represented England.

He did his first work in the games industry only two years later when he entered a competition to design a clone for Space Invaders. Going into the industry seemed like “the perfect marriage between games and programing”, he has said.

By the age of 16 – having already completed his A-levels – Hassabis began working at games company Bullfrog and co-wrote the successful game Theme Park – which was based on an amusement park and released in 1994 - in his year off before going to the University of Cambridge. His student friends struggled to believe he was the author of such a successful product until they saw his name on the packaging.

After graduating with a triple first in computer science from Queen’s College, Hassabis quickly returned to the games industry and became a lead AI programmer at Lionhead Studios, the Surrey-based company founded by British computer games pioneer Peter Molyneux. Very soon afterwards the young graduate went off to set up his own business, Elixir Studios, where he was executive designer of a game called Republic: The Revolution, which attempted to recreate a “living, breathing city” and was nominated for a BAFTA.

Joe Mc Donagh and Demis Hassabis, in the green shirt, in 1999 Joe Mc Donagh and Demis Hassabis, in the green shirt, in 1999 (david Sandison)
Although he has accepted that the project was over-ambitious, he told games website CVG that he had always been prepared to take chances. “I’m actually more worried about not taking risks and playing safe, not pushing myself enough,” he said. “It’s a bit perverse I suppose, and asking for trouble. I’ve always been prepared to jump in at the deep end and see if I can swim or not.”

For many years, Hassabis was a successful competitor in the London-based Mind Sports Olympiad, taking part in its elite Pentamind contest – a sort of mental pentathlon. Hassabis was Pentamind champion in five of the first seven years after the Olympiad was founded in 1997. His success meant that he was described as “probably the best games player in history”. Hassabis is an expert in the Japanese board game Shogi and an accomplished poker player.

His next computer game Evil Genius, which was based on a Bond-style villain in an island lair, was more favourably received by critics. After selling the rights to publishers, Hassabis sold the studio and went into medical science in order to further pursue his interest in AI technology. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts for his game designs.

Hassabis co-wrote 'Theme Park', which was released in 1994 Hassabis co-wrote 'Theme Park', which was released in 1994
As a cognitive neuroscientist he specialised in autobiographical memory (combining personal recollection and general knowledge) and amnesia. He investigated whether patients with lesions to the Hippocampus parts of their brains suffered damage to their imagination process as well as their memory recall. He completed his doctorate in cognitive neuroscience in 2009 at University College London and became a fellow at the college’s Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit and a visiting scientist at MIT and Harvard.

'Evil Genius' was received favourably by critics 'Evil Genius' was received favourably by critics
In 2012, he left academia to set up Deep Mind Technologies, developing technology for e-commerce and gaming and creating computer systems capable of playing computer games. The company, which was based in central London’s Russell Square before moving to Fenchurch Street, has a reputation for secrecy. Its aim is said to be to develop computers that think like humans. It is said to employ 50 people including co-founders Shane Legg, a 40-year-old New Zealander, and Mustafa Seleyman, a 29-year-old Briton.

Deep Mind’s investors include US Tesla car mogul Elon Musk, early Facebook investor Peter Thiel and the family of London app creator Nick d’Aloisio, who are all set for windfalls following the sale to Google. D’Aloisio, from south London, sold his news based app Summly to Yahoo! for a reported £19m early last year.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Sport
football
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
weird news
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

    Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

    Ashdown Group: Linux Administrator - London - £50,000

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator ...

    Ashdown Group: Business Intelligence Analyst - London - £45,000

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL Server Reporting Analyst (Busine...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?