Google Buys UK Artificial Intelligence Start-Up DeepMind

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Reported $400 million deal is Google’s largest European acquisition to date

UK artificial intelligence (AI) start-up DeepMind has been bought by Google for a reported $400m (£242m), making it the largest European acquisition so far for the search engine giant.

London-based Deepmind specialises in machine learning and developing systems in neuroscience, primarily for use in e-commerce and games. Google confirmed the deal to Re/Code earlier today, but declined to confirm the exact price. However, sources reported that CEO Larry Page was heavily involved in the deal, a sign of the status Google put on this acquisition.

DMT-Logo-Alpha-Portrait-260Delving deeper

DeepMind was founded by 37-year-old former teenage chess prodigy and neuroscientist Demis Hassabis, along with Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman.

Described in his youth as probably the best games player in history” by the Mind Sports Olympiad, Hassabis previously worked with legendary games designer Peter Molyneux at Bullfrog Productions, and was lead programmer and co-designer on the classic PC game Theme Park.

Although only a few years old, DeepMind is regarded as a formidable player in the AI space, with a team of at least 50 people. Since its founding, the company has secured more than $50 million in funding from some major backers, with investors including FoundersFind (of Sean Parker and Facebook fame) and Skype and Kazaa developer Jaan Tallinn.

The deal is the latest in a series of interesting acquisitions from Google, which has recently given signals that it is looking seriously at AI capabilities, most notably through its mysterious robotics unit. The group, which may also be related to Google’s efforts to develop driverless car technology, has purchased eight robotics companies, most recently famed DARPA-related manufacturer Boston Dynamics.

In May, Google also announced a partnership with NASA to launch the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab. The research programme aimed to try and help solve some of the world’s most challenging problems, from diseases to environmental threats, using supercomputers and complex mathematical formulas.

The DeepMind team will likely be working closely with Ray Kurzweil, a renowned pioneer in artificial intelligence (AI), and controversial believer in the “singularity” when superhuman AI will emerge, who was hired by Google in December 2012 as a director of technology working on machine learning. Little has been publicised about Kurzweil’s workings at Google since his appointment, so it may be that this acquisition could help kick-start his and Google’s research.

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