Demis Hassabis, the founder and CEO of DeepMind, is one of the foremost minds in AI today. He believes the technology can be used to better understand the way our own brains work.
“I think about AI as a very powerful tool,” he said, as reported by Tech Republic. “What I’m most excited about is applying those tools to science and accelerating breakthroughs.”
A chess prodigy, Demis began playing chess when he was four years old. By the time he was five, he was competing nationally. When he was 13, he achieved the rank of chess master and was the second best player in the world under the age of 14.
As a child, he discovered the world of artificial intelligence after buying a Commodore Amiga computer to program games. “I wrote AI opponents for Othello, as chess was too complicated for the machine to run, and it beat my younger brother” he explained in a Wired article.
At the age of 17, he used his knowledge of AI to create the critically acclaimed video game Theme Park, one of the first video games to use AI as the main gameplay component. The game sold millions of copies.
After graduating from the University of Cambridge, he worked at Lionhead Studios and left a year later to found Elixir Studios. Demis later went on to complete a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from University College London. His published paper, in which he developed a new theoretical account concerning the hippocampus, imagination and the episodic memory system, was listed as one of the top 10 breakthroughs of the year by the journal Science.
In 2010, he co-founded DeepMind, a machine learning AI startup. The company aims to “push the boundaries of AI, developing programs that can learn to solve any complex problem without needing to be taught how.”
As Demis wanted to attain funding from Peter Thiel, Facebook’s initial lead investor, he appealed to Peter’s love to chess to pique his interest. Peter invested in the project, and Elon Musk, Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, and Li Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures soon followed. In 2014, Google acquired the startup for £400 million.
Demis has received many honors and awards, including a spot on TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2017.