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.

Sport
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Travel
travelWhy Japan's love hotels are thriving through an economic downturn
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
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

    Technical Product Marketing Specialist - London - £70,000

    £50000 - £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Cloud Product and Solutions Marketin...

    Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

    £18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Data Analyst / Marketing Database Analyst

    £24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Business Analyst – 2 year fixed term contract – Kent – Circa £55k

    £45000 - £55000 Per Annum 31 days holiday, pension, healthcare, annual bonus: ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week