Demis Hassabis, computer scientist, chess prodigy and creator of the excellent Evil Genius and Republic has just made a killing by selling his AI firm, DeepMind, to Google for around £400m. The startup founded by Hassabis along with Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman brought together neuroscientists and computer scientists was exploring the potential for AI to mimic the human brain, and developed a system able to play games.
Facebook had previously attempted to acquire the firm, reports The Information, and Google snatched it up instead. This has also led Google to establish an ethics board in an effort to stop AI from being abused. The board will set up rules which dictate how Google can and cannot use this technology, hopefully stopping a Judgement Day or Wargames scenario.
Before starting up DeepMind, Hassabis was already familiar in the PC gaming world. At only 17 he was working at Bullfrog and was lead designer on Theme Park. He left Molyneux’s team to study computer science, and then joined Moleyneux at Lionhead to be the lead AI programmer on Black & White. The creature AI in Black & White was a revolutionary leap that Lionhead has been unable to replicate, despite Molyneux’s assertions that the dog AI in Fable 2 and 3 was even more advanced.
After Lionhead, Hassabis set up Elixer Studios and developed cult class Evil Genius, where you could finally teach James Bond-types a lesson and construct trap-laden villain bases and expand your shadowy underworld. Elixer also released Republic: The Revolution which, despite not gaining the traction of Evil Genius or Hassabis’ earlier projects remains one of my favourite simulations of politics in gaming.
He left gaming after Elixer went into liquidation and went back to academia, getting his doctorate in Cognitive Neuroscience before finally founding DeepMind.
It’s likely that Google will be most interested in DeepMind for the purposes of data mining and peering into your very soul, which at least seems almost as terrifying as constructing an army of giant robots – which they are also probably planning to do.