Google Acquires Artificial Intelligence Startup DeepMind For More Than $500M

Google will buy London-based artificial intelligence company DeepMindThe Information reports that the acquisition price was more than $500 million, and that Facebook was also in talks to buy the startup late last year. DeepMind confirmed the acquisition to us, but couldn’t disclose deal terms.

The acquisition was originally confirmed by Google to Re/code.

Google’s hiring of DeepMind will help it compete against other major tech companies as they all try to gain business advantages by focusing on deep learning. For example, Facebook recently hired NYU professor Yann LeCunn to lead its new artificial intelligence lab, IBM’s Watson supercomputer is now working on deep learning, and Yahoo recently acquired photo analysis startup LookFlow to lead its new deep learning group.

DeepMind was founded by neuroscientist Demis Hassabis, a former child prodigy in chess, Shane Legg, and Mustafa Suleyman. Skype and Kazaa developer Jaan Tallin is an investor.

This is the latest move by Google to fill out its roster of artificial intelligence experts and, according to Re/code, the acquisition was reportedly led by Google CEO Larry Page. If all three of DeepMind’s founders work for Google, they will join inventor, entrepreneur, author, and futurist Ray Kurzweil, who was hired in 2012 as a director of engineering focused on machine learning and language processing.

Kurzweil has said that he wants to build a search engine so advanced that it could act like a “cybernetic friend.”

After it acquired Nest earlier this month, critics voiced concerns about how much customer data the smart device maker would share with Google. The company’s purchase of Boston Dynamics last month also sparked confusion about why a search company needs a robotics maker.

Google looks like it is better prepared to allay user concerns over its latest acquisition. According to The Information’s sources, Google has agreed to establish an ethics board to ensure DeepMind’s artificial intelligence technology isn’t abused.

But the company may also have to clarify what exactly DeepMind’s AI tech does. The company’s site currently just has a landing page, with a relatively vague description that says DeepMind is “a cutting edge artificial intelligence company” to build general-purpose learning algorithms for simulations, e-commerce, and games. As of December, the startup had about 75 employees, says The Information.

Re/code reports that Founders Fund and Horizons Ventures are both major investors in the startup. DeepMind was started about three years ago, according to LinkedIn profiles.

In 2012, Carnegie Mellon professor Larry Wasserman wrote that the “startup is trying to build a system that thinks. This was the original dream of AI. As Shane [Legg] explained to me, there has been huge progress in both neuroscience and ML and their goal is to bring these things together. I thought it sounded crazy until he told me the list of famous billionaires who have invested in the company.”