Hearing about media giants like Facebook and Google acquiring companies for millions, if not billions, of dollars is perhaps nothing new. However Google’s latest acquisition has certainly caught the attention of a few people, as latest reports announce an estimated £242 million deal (around $400 million) with London based company DeepMind Technologies. This is actually Google’s largest European deal thus far.
The company they have acquired is an artificial intelligence company called DeepMind, which was originally founded in part by a 37 year old neuroscientist called Demis Hassabis. Demis was a child chess prodigy, reaching the level of master standard at just 13 years of age. He has indirectly influenced my life through his involvement of computer game design, working on classics such as Syndicate and Theme Park (if you don’t know these games, please don’t tell me as you’ll make me feel old). The other founders include Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman, and the company used algorithms for a number of different applications including games, simulations and e-commerce.
So why has Google acquired an artificial intelligence company?
The answer to this is actually quite straight forward. Google has been developing incredibly complex algorithms over the years to improve the quality of their search engine. Anyone using black hat or spammy SEO techniques designed to deceive their algorithm, may find the acquisition of an artifical intelligence company somewhat alarming. Artificial intelligence will be used to help process language and the content on websites to help better distinguish their relevance in it’s ranking algorithm. Google’s Director of Engineering Ray Kurzweil has been quoted as saying that he:
“wants to build a search engine so advanced that it could act as a cybernetic friend”
Many believe that the way in which we still look for information using search engines via keyword matching is still very basic, and this is likely also one of the first steps of many to create something more powerful.
Google vs. Skynet
Google has often been compared to the main atagonist, Skynet, from the Terminator franchise of films. For those that don’t know (you haven’t seen the Terminator films!?) Skynet is a self-aware artificial intelligence system that tries to wipe out the human race, initially through nuclear war, followed by the mass production of Terminator Cyborgs that hunt down the remaining survivors.
There were so many perceived similarities between the two companies (not including the nuclear war or cyborgs) that you can visit blogs dedicated to making comparisons between the two companies. You can even buy Google branded Skynet t-shirts online.
This latest acquisition has done a lot to fuel that fire, especially when you consider that they only recently purchased a robotics company called “Boston Dynamics”, a leading developer of advanced robots including a very “Terminator-esque” anthropomorphic robot called “Atlas” (pictured below).
Before you get too concerned, there are of course probably even more applications that Google is considering than we even realise. For example, they have always talked about the possibility of a self-driving car which would certainly require robotics and a powerful AI!
In light of Google’s recent high profile acquisitions, also including a $3.2 billion deal for Nest (a technology company that allows you to control your appliances via a smartphone app), Google has agreed to setup an ethics board to ensure that the collected data they have on users and the AI is not abused. However if their next acquisition has anything to do with military applications, I’m going to start building my bunker.