Google snaps up London start up in £400m deal

GOOGLE has paid £400m to take control of a London-based tech company co-founded by former chess prodigy and neuroscientist Demis Hassabis.

DeepMind Technologies, which was set up by Hassabis and colleagues Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman in 2011, will work on research and development projects in artificial intelligence, which could one day be used in Google’s famous search engine.

The company, which has offices on Russell Square, will remain based in London and report to Google’s senior fellow Jeff Dean, who works in the company’s systems and infrastructure group.

Hassabis, 37, and his team will come under the ultimate oversight of Alan Eustace, the company’s search engine guru and senior vice president of knowledge. “We’re really excited to be joining Google,” Hassabis said last night.

“This partnership will allow us to turbo-charge our mission to harness the power of machine learning tools to tackle some of society’s toughest problems, and help make our everyday lives more productive and enjoyable.”

DeepMind specialises in a highly complex branch of artificial intelligence known as deep learning, which can vastly improve speech recognition software. The firm was founded with the backing of some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names as its shareholders.

Founders Fund, the group established by venture capitalist Peter Thiel, and a trust led by Tesla motor founder Elon Musk are both small investors in the venture along with Yahoo’s Nick D’Aloisio and Skype co-developer Jaan Tallinn.

PROFILE: DEMIS HASSABIS

A child chess prodigy who became a master at the age of 13, Hassabis has looked destined for the top of the tech industry from an early age. After completing A-levels he went into computer video game design at Guildford-based Bullfrog Productions, going on to be co-designer and lead programmer on the company’s classic 1994 game Theme Park, at the age of just 17. Born in north London in 1976, Hassabis took a double first in computer science at the University of Cambridge, before striking out on his own and founding computer game programming computer Elixir Studios. He returned to academia in 2005 at University College London, where he gained his PhD in cognitive neuroscience before becoming a post-doctoral fellow at the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit. Google is understood to have been deeply impressed by his latest venture DeepMind. The firm presented a conference paper in December, where it used computer screen pixels from Atari computer games like Pong and Space Invaders as a basis for an algorithm that automatically beat humans at the game. “These guys are world leaders,” a person close to the company said yesterday.

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