technologyreview | At Google, the scientific charge has been spearheaded by DeepMind, the high-concept British AI company started by neuroscientist and programmer Demis Hassabis. Google acquired it for $400 million in 2014.
Hassabis has left no doubt that he’s holding onto his scientific ambitions. In a January blog post, he said DeepMind has a “hybrid culture” between the long-term thinking of an academic department and “the speed and focus of the best startups.” Aligning with academic goals is “important to us personally,” he writes. Kording, one of whose post-doctoral students, Mohammad Azar, was recently hired by DeepMind, says that “it’s perfectly understood that the bulk of the projects advance science.”
Last year, DeepMind published twice in Nature, the same storied journal where the structure of DNA and the sequencing of the human genome were first reported. One DeepMind paper concerned its program AlphaGo, which defeated top human players in the ancient game of Go; the other described how a neural network with a working memory could understand and adapt to new tasks.
Then, in December, scientists from Google’s research division published the first deep-learning paper ever to appear in JAMA, the august journal of America’s physicians. In it, they showed a deep-learning program could diagnose a cause of blindness from retina images as well as a doctor. That project was led by Google Brain, a different AI group, based out of the company’s California headquarters. It also says it prioritizes publications, noting that researchers there “set their own agenda.”