As the tech giants race to develop the next big thing in artificial intelligence (AI), UK Cypriot Demis Hassabis is at the forefront of this exciting push for computing innovation.
Demis is the CEO of DeepMind, the AI research laboratory he co-founded in 2010, which was acquired by Google just four years later for £400 million.
He has predicted that human level AI may be just a few years away, putting the date for the arrival of artificial general intelligence (AGI) – systems that can think in similar but superior ways to humans – much earlier than previous predictions.
“The progress in the last few years has been pretty incredible,” Demis said at the Future of Everything Festival last week.
“I don’t see any reason why that progress is going to slow down. I think it may even accelerate. So I think we could be just a few years, maybe within a decade away.”
Demis was born to a Greek Cypriot father and a Singaporean mother. In an interview with the Evening Standard, he said he had a “quite bohemian” upbringing around the areas of Finchley and Hendon in North London.
Reflecting on his parent’s interests and his own path in life, Demis noted that “neither of them are technical at all, which is quite bizarre. My interest in AI and computers came from games initially – and that pre-dated even having a computer.”
A former child prodigy in chess, Demis reached master standard at the age of 13, with a rating of 2300. He was the second-highest-rated Under-14 player in the world.
Before diving into the world of AI development, he found success in the video game industry. During his gap year, he took his first job with Bullfrog Productions. At the age of just 17, he worked as a co-designer and lead programmer on the 1994 game Theme Park. After leaving Bullfrog, Demis enrolled in Queens’ College, Cambridge to pursue his studies. He completed the Computer Science Tripos program and in 1997, he graduated from the University of Cambridge with a Double First degree.
Following the completion of his degree, Demis returned to the gaming industry, this time working for Lionhead Studios. He then founded his own company, Elixir Studios in 1998. He held the position of executive designer for the video games Republic: The Revolution and Evil Genius, both of which were nominated for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards.
Demis then pursued a PhD in cognitive neuroscience at University College London (UCL). His goal was to draw inspiration from the workings of the human brain to develop novel algorithms for artificial intelligence (AI). In 2009, he successfully completed his PhD program.
In 2010, the tech expert co-founded DeepMind Technologies alongside Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman. At the time, Demis explained that DeepMind’s work and research mostly involved “learning algorithms – ones that automatically learn how to do things from raw data, rather than being programmed to do things.”
“We are not trying to copy or interface with the brain,” he added. “We look at state-of-the-art neuroscience and cherry-pick the key principles behind how we think the mind works and see if we can convert them into an algorithm.”
Since Google’s acquisition of the company, Demis has served as CEO of DeepMind, overseeing its continued development of cutting-edge AI algorithms for Google’s various products and services. Under his leadership, DeepMind has made significant breakthroughs in AI research, including developing the AlphaGo algorithm. He continues to devote his talents to pushing the boundaries of what is possible in AI research, with the ultimate goal of creating beneficial AI technologies that can help solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges.
Demis’ accomplishments have earned him numerous accolades, including being named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2017 and in Britain’s 2018 New Year’s Honours, he was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.