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.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
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

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?