Google’s shopping spree goes on and on, it seems. As of Monday, January 27, 2014, they made their biggest-ever European acquisition with the purchase of the renowned artificial intelligence firm DeepMind for a reported cost of US$400m (GB£242m, EUR292m). Further to this buy-out, on February 23, 2014, Twitter gossip was all about Caterpillar’s CEO Douglas R. Oberhelman in meetings with Jeff Bezos and the wonder-kid Dennis Hassabis. With Caterpillar’s worldwide sales of combined harvester and tractors at an all-time high, a major merger or else a grand corporate cooperation may be in the offing.
First things first, though. Founded in 2012, DeepMind describes its mission as “focusing on machine-learning and neuroscience systems to build powerful general-purpose learning algorithms,” according to the Financial Times. The London-based company was the brainchild of the former chess prodigy Dennis Hassabis, along with entrepreneurs Mustafa Suleyman and Shane Legg. Having raised $50m in funding from some of the savviest investors and speculators in London, Deep Mind had an army of Sloane Rangers* and celebrities like footballer Rio Ferdinand, writer Clive Barker and actor Ewan McGregor calling their brokers with a view toward being pioneering, trendy technology entrepreneurs and investors. Still, for anyone who thought Hassabis, Legg and Suleyman weren’t serious, investors like Founders Fund, Horizons Ventures, Skype and the ruthlessly shrewd Kazaa developer Jaan Tallinn showed that DeepMind was no mere intellectual bagatelle.
A very interesting character, Dennis Hassabis was described as “probably the best games player in history” and reached the level of master at the age of 13. Well regarded as a video game developer, Hassabis started working with legendary games designer Peter Molyneux as lead programmer and co-designer on the iconic title Theme Park at the tender age of 17. Wealthy already, Hassabis went to school part-time. Time enough to finish his PhD at UCL (University College Of London) in 2009. Developing artificial intelligence technology is Hassabis’ forté and he continued his research at the world-renowned Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit at UCL before founding DeepMind in 2012.
A lot is still mysterious, thus far. DeepMind utilizes very little P.R. Hassabis was quoted in The Financial Times as saying that the company’s first commercial products are in the area of “simulations, e-commerce and games” with an eye toward starting a recommendation engine for e-commerce sites. AI (Artificial intelligence) is an area where more or less every major tech company is wrestling and scratching for an advantage, especially when it comes to stealing talent pool. The hot gossip had been that Facebook were on the cusp of purchasing DeepMind but negotiations ended just before Christmas 2013 and Google were waiting in January, check book at the ready.
While Google has confirmed the purchase, it has refused to confirm the price, although confidential sources from the website Re/Code were the first to quote a price based on sources within the company. Having recently purchased military robot manufacturer Boston Dynamics, and already put a lot of resources into the likes of self-driving cars and a new partnership with NASA on the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab, the sky may not be the limit for Google. Indeed, should a deal be made with Caterpillar, the company which, beyond farming vehicles, makes military vehicles like armored bridge-layers, tanks, armored cars, military tracks and amphibious naval vessels could, in tandem with one of the world’s largest information and intelligence gatherers and its military robotics division, become one of the world’s biggest industrial powerhouses.
*Sloane Rangers, a/k/a ’Sloanies’ are the children of England’s aristocratic and wealthy upper classes. As their families tend to run every aspect of life in the United Kingdom, they are, rightly or wrongly, perceived to be the bankers and brokers who ‘fix’ the economic system to benefit themselves.