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Google makes strides toward true artificial intelligence

Wed, 01/29/2014 - 11:32am
Daniele DeAngelis Walker, Editorial Intern

For decades, fantasy media and laymen’s conspiracy theories have obsessed about the robotic apocalypse. Purists like me insist that artificial intelligence will never measure up to human competence. But artificial intelligence makes not-so-subtle advances. We all ask: Is the whole business of artificial intelligence indubitably creepy or sensationally cool?

Google recently endorsed the “sensationally cool” side when they purchased a London startup called DeepMind, a company that strives to produce the best in artificial intelligence. In recent years, Google acquired 7 other robotics companies across the globe. They’ve also started departments specializing in artificial intelligence and compete to stay on top of the market. Case in point: They reportedly beat Facebook in a race for DeepMind. Rumors say Google bought the company for $400-500 million, its biggest British acquisition ever.


DeepMind itself was created two years ago by 37-year old Demis Hassabis along with Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman. Hassabis is a former child chess prodigy and computer game designer. He worked in neuroscience and academia before starting DeepMind. More than anything, he is fascinated by the mathematics of human memory. He extensively studies the neuroscientific mechanisms that underlie and compose memory systems. As a neuroscientist, he specialized in autobiographical memory and amnesia.

According to its founders, DeepMind believes human activities boil down to mathematical algorithms. They further believe that if such algorithms are entered into computers, tasks will no longer require human intelligence. At DeepMind, neuroscientists and computer engineers work together. The company has made advancements in speech recognition and language translation, though until recently it kept a low profile.

My question now is, what are Google’s plans for DeepMind? The company has no products yet, but their savviness in ecommerce could be beneficial. However, experts suggest that Google acquired DeepMind for its potential, not its existing products or technologies. Perhaps they plan to continue with existing projects. Most recently, AOL has reported that Google plans to use DeepMind’s expertise to revamp its search engines.  Or perhaps they want to use DeepMind’s skills to transform areas of business previously untouched by robotics and artificial intelligence, such as product assembly.

Before they set any plans in motion, Google wants to establish an ethical board of review to make sure they do not abuse artificial intelligence. They will also integrate DeepMind’s employees (numbered around 75) into the Google lexicon. DeepMind’s corporate agenda was undefined before this acquisition, so Google’s use of the company could spin in many different directions. The world and I watch intently to see what comes next.

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