One condition of the sale was that Google establish an internal ethics board to monitor its AI research and activities, reported The Information.
According to The Information website, the deal was worth over $500 million. Some might think that figure is more than DeepMind was worth; however, Google never does anything without a very good reason and to the search giant $500 million must have seemed good value. The price might also have been forced upward because of interest shown in the company by another potential buyer, Facebook. The 2-year old DeepMind, headed by former chess prodigy and acclaimed neuroscientist Demis Hassabis, 37, was obviously very attractive to both companies. DeepMind’s main asset is its research staff members working on machine learning.
Google has not commented on the conditions of the sale. The search engine company has recently purchased the smart thermostat and alarm company Nest, as well as a number of robotics companies in 2013. Most recently, in December, Google acquired Boston Dynamics, which came with several US military contracts.
DeepMind’s website states the company provides “the best techniques from machine learning and systems neuroscience to build powerful general-purpose learning algorithms.” This technology is based on research by company founder Hassabis, whose work explores brain cell interaction to create software that can learn in a way that mimics the human brain. The company website posits commercial applications in e-commerce, games, and simulations.
Google executive Eric Schmidt, speaking to the Guardian last week, defined Google’s interest in robotics and artificial intelligence as building a top-notch “personal assistant.” The projected assistant would function, in Schmidt’s words, “to help get me through the day, figure out my questions and suggest questions I should ask people.”
Though envisioned as cyber friends, current and projected incarnations of AI are causing increased concern; advanced, AI-enabled robots may be more likely to wreak destruction rather than aid humanity in its dual quests for comfort and social equality. The potential uses of the artificial intelligence technology that is likely to emerge from mega labs brokered by tech giants, like Google and Facebook, are controversial. DeepMind co-founder Shane Legg warned in an online Q&A session that AI technology in the wrong hands is, “the number 1 risk for this century.”
Google’s Andy Rubin is organizing its roster of high-tech companies to develop robots that can see as well as think, in what he describes as a “moonshot” effort. Considering the size of Google’s investments in AI and robotics, their efforts seem to be based on more than just a shot in the dark.