The CEO of Google's £400 million AI startup is going to meet with tech leaders to discuss ethics


Demis Hassabis DeepMind

YouTube/Zeitgeist Minds

DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis

Demis Hassabis, the CEO of artificial intelligence (AI) startup DeepMind that was acquired by Google last year for £400 million, has revealed that some of the most prominent minds in AI are gathering in New York early next year to discuss the ethical implications of the field they work in.


The AI ethics meeting will be held at New York University in January and attended by the heads of big tech firms, according to Hassabis.

It's not clear at this stage exactly which individuals or which companies will attend but global technology giants such as Facebook and Apple are likely candidates given their well-documented interest in AI - think of Apple's virtual assistant Siri, for example.

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Google is using DeepMind's technology across its organisation to make many of its best-known products and services smarter than they were previously. For example, Google is starting to use DeepMind's algorithms to power its recommendation engines and improve image recognition on platforms like Google+.

DeepMind's self-learning algorithms, or "agents," can already outperform humans on computer games like "Space Invaders" and "Breakout" but the company has no plans to stop there. It's now teaching its algorithms to play 3D racing games and understand other complex puzzles. Ultimately, DeepMind wants to "solve intelligence" and then use that to "solve everything else". No mean feat.


Last night, Hassabis - a Cambridge graduate with a double-first in computer science and a chess master at the age of 13 - acknowledged the impact AI systems like DeepMind could have on the world.

"If we have something this powerful we need to think about the ethics," he said during a public talk at the British Museum in London, before reassuring the audience that machines won't possess human-level intelligence for at least a few more decades.

Renowned scientists such as Stephen Hawking and Oxford University's Nick Bostrom have warned that machines could outsmart humans within the next hundred years. Hawking told the BBC earlier in the year that artificial intelligence could spell the end for humanity, while Bostrom agrees that the future of the human race is likely to be shaped by machines. Billionaires like PayPal founder Elon Musk and Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates have also expressed their concerns over the uncontrolled development of AI. However, many other scientists in the field, such Microsoft Research chief Eric Horvitz, say AI fears have been greatly overblown.

Demis Hassabis

Business Insider/Sam Shead

Hassabis (left) took questions from the audience at the end of his talk.

During the Q&A with Hassabis, chaired by BBC Worldwide CEO Tim Davie, a concerned audience member addressed Hassabis, saying: "You've taken the Yankee dollar. I hope everything you do improves society rather than kills us off." He added: "Once you let the genie out of the bottle we're all f-----."


Hassabis responded by saying that DeepMind spent a lot of time doing the due diligence on Google before agreeing to the deal. One of the conditions of the deal was that Google must create an internal ethics committee, which it has done. However, Google is yet to publicly state who sits on the committee and what they're doing.

Google AI ethics committee will be publicised

Defending why Google hasn't revealed the members of its AI ethics committee yet, Hassabis said "it's very early days" and "there's lots of scrutiny on this". He said he'd like to get everyone "up to speed" on artificial intelligence first. "We wanted to have a calm, collected debate first," he said. "At some point we will reveal who these people [on the ethics committee] are and what issues are being discussed."

Hassabis also assured the audience that he will not allow DeepMind technology to be used in military applications.

Hassabis also revealed that he spoke with Hawking on the topic of AI a few months ago. "I think [Hawking] was quite reassured about how we specifically were approaching AI," said Hassabis. "Most of the people worrying about this are not in the AI field," he continued, adding "it's easy to get carried away with science fiction scenarios."

DeepMind now has over 150 scientists working in an office in London's King's Cross, making it the largest collection of machine learning experts anywhere in the world, according to Hassabis.


The company is due to release more research "in the next few months" outlining how its algorithms are advancing.

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