Google's Buying an AI Startup Called DeepMind for £300M (Update)

By Jamie Condliffe on at

Clearly not content with buying a terrifying robot army, Google is now purchasing a London-based artificial intelligence company to go with it—for just over £300 million.

The Information reports that Google will buy DeepMind for "more than $500 million," having beaten Facebook in negotiations with the startup at the end of last year. According to Re/code, the acquisition was led by Larry Page, and it will add to a burgeoning AI team at Google—not least Ray Kurzweil, who was hired in 2012 to work on machine learning and language processing.

Itself focused on deep learning, DeepMind was founded by neuroscientist Demis Hassabis, Skype developer Jaan Tallin, and researcher Shane Legg. It is, however, very much a start-up: its website is currently just a landing page and, despite having 75 employees, it's vague about exactly what it's working to achieve beyond using "the best techniques from machine learning and systems neuroscience to build powerful general-purpose learning algorithms."

Alongside the acquisition, Google announced that it was also establishing an ethics board to ensure the potentially controversial AI technology can't be abused. Speaking of which, it remains unclear exactly what Google plans to do with DeepMind now that it has it, and how its staff will integrate into the search company's structure. What does seem likely, though, is that the results will be impressive. [The Information, Re/code]

Update - Google has been in touch to clear up a few of the questions we had about the DeepMind acquisition  Rather than powering a new robot army, DeepMind will help develop Google's core search products, with a focus being voice search. The example Gizmodo was given was asking an Android phone who was the Prime Minister, receiving the answer David Cameron, and then immediately asking a follow up question asking "Who is his wife?" -- without specifically mentioning David Cameron again. With DeepMind's skills in context-aware search, you'd be able to more reliably get the answer "Samantha Cameron" based on the answer to the previous question, without having to ask the entire "Who is David Cameron's wife?" question. We're expecting more from Google on this soon, and will update this post once we receive further information.

Image by AP