Google acquires artificial intelligence firm DeepMind

Google is continuing its robotics-oriented spending spree by acquiring UK-based DeepMind, and is developing an artificial intelligence ethics board as part of the deal. Is a robot revolution en route?

Chris Helgren/Reuters
The data collection and distribution business is booming.

With $56.5 billion dollars to spare, it looks like Google is letting loose on the tech world like a kid in a toy store. The most recent desire? Robots.

On Sunday, Google confirmed it had purchased UK artificial intelligence firm DeepMind, its ninth robotics-oriented acquisition in a little over a year. This deal is only the most recent in Google’s growing collection of artificial intelligence acquisitions, as well as a growing fleet of some of the smartest tech companies in the world.

According to its website, the two-year-old company deals in “machine learning and systems neuroscience to build powerful general-purpose learning algorithms,” and its first first commercial applications are in simulations, e-commerce, and games.

The deal, which was first reported by Re/Code, is valued at $400 million, a small sum compared to the $3.2 billion Google recently threw down to buy smart home technology company Nest. However, sources say Google may not just be buying the company for its technology, but also for its talent.

DeepMind is run by Demis Hassabis, Shane Legg, and Mustafa Suleyman, all of whom have backgrounds in artificial intelligence and technology. Mr. Hassabis alone has a background in game development, a doctorate in cognitive neuroscience, and has done research on amnesia (he was also a child chess prodigy). According to Re/Code, DeepMind was actively recruiting in the artificial intelligence world, taking talent away from big tech companies such as Google and Facebook.

The site also adds that Google CEO Larry Page personally led the deal proceedings. In 2012, Facebook courted DeepMind, but the deal fell through.

All in all, it looks as if Google is seeking to make its products more intelligent, and DeepMind could hold the key to bringing the tech company one step closer to this goal.

“DeepMind was generally interested in reinforcement learning, and in deep learning, which is very useful in mining so called ‘big data', something Google has a lot of and is interested in processing,” says Murray Shanahan a professor of cognitive robotics at Imperial College London in an article by the Guardian.

Does this all feel a little too futuristic to you? Google and DeepMind, it turns out, are aware they are wading into uncharted ethical waters. Google is developing an artificial intelligence ethics board as a part of the deal, according to the Information.

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