Google has bought artificial-intelligence startup DeepMind for $400 million, according to Re/code.
Google confirmed the acquisition but not the price. The publication’s unnamed sources said Google CEO Larry Page personally shepherded the deal to completion, which hints at its importance to the tech giant’s overall strategy.
Based in London (and founded by computer-game designer and chess prodigy Demis Hassabis), DeepMind bills itself as a “cutting edge artificial intelligence company” that combines “the best techniques from machine learning and systems neuroscience” to construct “general-purpose learning algorithms.” Commercial applications include games, e-commerce, and simulations. An anonymous source speaking to Re/code suggested that the company had competed with Google, Facebook, and other large tech firms for software engineers and machine-learning researchers.
Over at The Information, unnamed “people familiar with the negotiations” said that Facebook had tried to purchase DeepMind in late 2013, losing out for reasons that remain unclear. That publication also stated that Google had actually paid closer to $500 million for its latest acquisition, and that a newly created ethics board (presumably composed of Google and DeepMind employees) will help determine how Google can use artificial intelligence in a principled way.
Artificial intelligence is a hot field at the moment. Earlier this month, IBM announced it would invest a considerable amount of money and researchers in commercial applications for Watson, its supercomputing platform; in theory, workers can ask Watson questions in “natural language” in order to receive piercing insights into their data. Facebook, Microsoft, and other companies are all exploring how to create “smarter” software that intuits users’ needs and desires. For Google, the benefits of having more machine-learning specialists and artificial-intelligence experts under its roof are obvious—from robots to search engines and mobile operating systems, the company is very much in the business of creating platforms that rapidly learn and adapt to their current environment.
But how Google will apply DeepMind’s assets on a more tactical level remains to be seen. Maybe it’ll attempt to make Android more like the OS1 from “Her.”