Google acquires human-like AI company for $500 million, Skynet is now a real possibility

Terminator 2, Google's Judgment Day

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Continuing its rather intimidating streak of acquisitions, Google has acquired the British artificial intelligence company DeepMind for around $500 million. There is no doubt that this acquisition is linked to Google’s hiring of futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil, and the string of eight robotics acquisitions that ended last year with the purchase of Boston Dynamics, one of the world’s biggest names in robotics. We would not be surprised if there was also a connection to Google’s acquisition of Nest, Google Glass, and its Calico life-extension project. All the pieces are now in place for a Google-created Skynet and the robotic Judgment Day apocalypse that would surely follow.

Despite the exorbitant price tag of $400 million, there’s sadly very little public information about DeepMind. In the last few years I have noticed a slightly worrying trend where many acquired companies don’t even have a functioning website — and DeepMind is no different. According to our own in-house neuroscientist, John Hewitt, DeepMind appears to be in the business of creating artificial general intelligence (AGI). The co-founder and apparent brains of the operation, Demis Hassabis, has published some papers on AGI.

Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot. Click to zoom in.

Google now owns Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot. Imagine if it was equipped with a strong AI. Hello, Judgment Day!

AGI (sometimes referred to as strong AI) is different from conventional AI (weak AI) in the sense that it is capable of performing (and learning from) very general tasks. Most AI (weak AI) is programmed to perform a very specific task, such as decoding house signs in Google Streetview, or IBM’s Jeopardy-playing Watson. AGI, on the other hand, is programmed so that it solves problems in a much more human way. Where weak AI is usually characterized by speed and accuracy, strong AI is more closely linked to reasoning, planning, self-awareness, consciousness, and communicating in natural language. In other words, if you want to build useful, human-like robots, you need a really good AGI.

Building an AGI, as you can imagine, is rather difficult. Ray Kurzweil, in his 2005 book The Singularity is Near, speculates that human-level machine intelligence (the technological singularity) should be possible sometime between 2015 and 2045, depending on the rate at which computing power grows. There are numerous groups, including IBM, who are trying to emulate neurons and synapses within supercomputers, with the hope of understanding how we might eventually build an AGI. Ben Goertzel, who has done a lot of research into AGIs, is currently working on writing software (OpenCog) that will imbue a humanoid robot with the intelligence of a human toddler, but there’s no timeline for the (hopeful) success of this project. (Read: How to create a mind, or die trying.)

At this point, we have absolutely no clue how advanced DeepMind’s AGI is. Presumably, if Google saw fit to pay $500 million, there must be something juicy worth acquiring. Furthermore, inside sources say that Facebook was DeepMind’s original suitor, but for some reason the deal fell through, allowing Google to step in. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we see the fruits of Google’s recent robotics and AI acquisitions, but who knows — it wouldn’t be that surprising if we never hear about DeepMind ever again. $500 million is a drop in Google’s estimated $60 billion in cash reserve ocean.

Terminator, looking menacing

As an interesting aside, according to two people familiar with the deal, Google agreed to set up an “ethics board” that will govern how the company can and can’t use DeepMind’s technology. DeepMind pushed for this arrangement. We don’t have any more details at the moment, but presumably we’re talking about a group of people who will try to prevent Google from turning into Skynet. Yes, Google might become the first big corporation to enact Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. The three laws are: 1) a robot may not injure a human through action or inaction. 2) a robot must obey orders given by humans, except where it conflicts with the first law. 3) a robot must protect its own existence, as long as it does not conflict with the first or second law.

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  • Marc Guillot

    I, for one, welcome our new robotic overlords :-)

    • sier0038

      Ah, good thinking: when our robotic overlords read this, they will see your friendly comment and deem you an ally.

      • DarkGray Knight

        Which would then be the perfect opportunity to infiltrate their ranks and destroy them.

      • Angel Ham

        Ally? At best he’ll be deemed as a slave.

        • Marc Guillot

          Have you never seen Gaius Balthar ?, betray the entire human race to the machines could be quite fun, specially if skynet is as kinky as the Cylons and builds you a Number Six. :-).

          • Avril111

            My Uncle Nathaniel recently got a nearly
            new red Chrysler 200 Sedan only from working part time off a home pc… find
            out this here J­a­m­2­0­.­ℂ­o­m

          • Unicorn Slayer

            speaking of bots….

        • massau

          why the hell would robots need slaves to do the labour? come on they just create there own specialized robots that have a specific purpose, these robots just do there job 24/7.
          an good example would be a mining robot.

          i don’t think they would exterminate us, if the understand there own mind than they can upgrade itself like the singularity they probably just leave earth if we want them to. because there body doen’t need the -40 to 30C range and atmosphere to survive there not limited like us.

          • ki11me

            So the robots create robot slaves? Won’t that just lead to some kind of robot civil war?

          • massau

            no they are programmed to enjoy what they do, it would be more like bulldozer, a digging tool but whit enough ai to just do there job, they would be more like soft ai, not hard ai. it would be optimized just for that job. not like futurama.

            Your coffee machine hasn’t stopped working because it didn’t want to make coffee, didn’t it?

            also there might be no individual it might be one large distributed AI, it would just mine unconsciously.

    • Phobos


  • Josh Lambert

    I hope they have read the I, Robot stories… (hint: the first law should alter the “or inaction” clause)…

  • MisterBlat

    “software (OpenCog) that will imbue a humanoid robot with the intelligence of a human toddler”

    So it’ll try to stick everything in its mouth and shit its pants on a regular basis? Sweet.

  • Scott Jackson

    “I have noticed a slightly worrying trend where many acquired companies don’t even have a functioning website — and DeepMind is no different.”

    DeepMind has a website: It’s only one page and has very little information, but hey at least its function!

    • eonvee375

      +1 lol ^^

  • Guest

    just one question!

    do you still shoot it in the head? ^^

    • Marc Guillot

      I’ll prefer to shot them in the legs, once immobilized we will have plenty of time to look for their artificial brain.

  • indio

    There will never will be anything like general “artificial” intelligence, except maybe in decrepit nerd’s, like Kurzweil, wet-dreams. Google will realize this, but only after he’s bilked a few billion down the drain.

    • DarthTigris

      Then Judgement Day actually happens.
      indio – “Sorry, I didn’t think they could do it. My bad. Why are you all mad at me? How is this my fault? I just say stuff on the internet like everybody else, what do I know? You should be mad at th-”
      BOOM, we’re dead.

  • ja_1410

    I believe it when I see it. Human level intelligence that is in machine.

  • Joel Detrow

    Google’s acquisitions lately are less about acquiring specific technologies or companies and more about acquiring the brains behind these operations. They don’t particularly want home automation, they want the people who were designing that home automation to be in the same room as their people who design all their other stuff. The same is almost certainly true of their purchase of DeepMind.

  • jhewitt123

    I think the first step is for them is try to put cell-level intelligence in a grain of rice. If they do that, or try to do that, or even say they are going to try to do that, we will have the first clue they mean to do something resembling real intelligence and should pay closer attention. Then they can build a machine out of those units that can pass Goertzel’s coffee-making AGI test: a machine that can go into anyone’s home and figure out how to produce a cup of coffee.

  • VirtualMark

    We’re still decades off simulating the equivalent of a human mind, so I’m not too worried about a self aware Skynet type intelligence.

    • DarthTigris

      So basically you’re all like “won’t happen in my lifetime so not my problem” and stuff, right?

      • VirtualMark

        I didn’t say that, I said we’re years off it. People don’t realise how far away it is, but by using current methods and accounting for Moore’s law(assuming computing power still grows), we are many decades away from simulating a human mind in real time.

        Of course things may change, I’d never say never. But for the next decade or so, I’m certainly not worried.

        • DarthTigris

          So you are firmly convinced that it has to reach the point of simulating a human mind before it could become dangerous …?

  • Ruel

    This is the height of the race to the best AI: Google’s Google Now, Apple’s Siri, Windows Cortana, and now Intel’s Jarvis all for only one reason: “He who controls (or delivers the best and practical) AI, controls the home of everyone. The home is the final battleground for the convergence of tech, and there’s no better time for it: voice nuance and command recognition, interconnected home (the internet of things), worldwide database, and precognitive algorithm.

    And when that time finally comes, so is the irony of it all: the machines will now take care of the humans from sleeping, to bath, to eat, to work.

  • twajjo

    “Ethics Board”, huh?

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it” (Upton Sinclair).

    Sit back and smell the conflation of Google’s interests with humanities!

  • RobotEnomics

    Google is in the business of providing information. Its mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

    Google’s acquisition of DeepMind significantly augments its ability to collect and organize data to enhance its services towards its stated mission. The Google executive team knows what the big data evangelists have been claiming for some time – the chance to gather data effectively is a game changer. It also gets patents on improved image search capabilities.

    I’ve written before on the 8 robotic acquisitions Google completed in 2013. Maybe we will hear more about the cost of those acquisitions during Google’s Q4, 2013 Earning’s release after the closing bell on Thursday 30th January 2014. I still stand firm that much of those acquisitions are connected to Google’s mapping related activities. As I wrote at the time:

    Maps are clearly at the core of Google’s development strategy, from driverless cars, online shopping and search, to wearable technology. Many of the recent robot acquisitions will enhance Google’s mobile strategy and improve its delivery services, hardware capabilities and above all localization experiences. “Google’s geographic data may become its most valuable asset. Not solely because of this data alone, but because location data makes everything else Google does and knows more valuable.”

    This week’s acquisition of DeepMind (which I wrote about here) has gathered a huge amount of press attention considering the relatively small amount Google paid ($500 million), compared to the recent Waze acquisition ($ 969 million), Nest acquisition ($3.2 billion) and Motorola ($12.4 billion).

    Much of the media, and indeed social media hype, has expressed comments that Google now has the ability to build Skynet, the self-aware artificial intelligence system from the Terminator movies, focusing on the fact that – “the technology could be used to controversial ends,” – hence Google was required to establish an Ethics board as part of the DeepMind acquisition, which: “will devise rules for how Google can and can’t use the technology.”

    The DeepMind technology is indeed somewhat impressive and closer to a level of artificial intelligence than many others. Maybe the reinforcement learning of the DeepMind technology can be compared to IBM Watson as the closest other known technology currently available – and that’s a big maybe, but with the team Google has built and its capabilities in Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence the DeepMind acquisition certainly could give it similar ‘supercomputing’ capabilities as Watson.

    IBM Watson, like Google’s ambitions are not something we should fear, they are developments we should embrace. According to IBM’s John Kelly and Steve Hamm, writing in their book: Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing:

    “The goal isn’t to replicate human brains, though. This isn’t about replacing human thinking with machine thinking. Rather, in the era of cognitive systems, humans and machines will collaborate to produce better results – each bringing their own superior skills to the partnership. The machines will be more rational and analytic – and, of course, possess encyclopedic memories and tremendous computational abilities. People will provide judgment, intuition, empathy, a moral compass and human creativity.”

    But let me get to the point – and back to focusing on Google’s mission. Google believes organizing the world’s data will make us more productive and therefore its services will be more useful.

    Through its Google Now service it wants to offer us the ability to talk with and have question and answer sessions with our personal assistant, or cybernetic friend. Think the Star Trek computer or ‘assistant.’ Although, personally I see it more as Jarvis, (or more correctly: J.A.R.V.I.S. Just A Rather Very Intelligent System) from the Iron Man franchise, the AI system which ‘acts’ as Tony Stark’s best friend.

    Let’s turn to two high-ranking executives within Google for an idea of the big problem that Google could solve with DeepMind’s technology improving Google Now’s service. First if we listen to Astro Teller, the Captain of Moonshots at Google X (a moonshot is a long term project to solve a problem with a radical (often futuristic) solution). Astro said in a video presentation one of the biggest problems to be solved was “having more time.” He talks about one of the biggest issues most people claim is they “don’t have enough time.” And being able to help people have more time, or manage their time better could be ‘building the impossible.’

    Now let’s not get carried away Google will not attempt to slow down the rotation of the earth, but through its Google Now assistant service it could work with us to enhance our own neurological limits, which lead us to forgetfulness and oversights by providing an information rich, data system designed to support our needs.

    If that sounds far fetched, consider what Google Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt writes in his latest book: The New Digital Age – Reshaping the future of people, nations and business:

    Centralizing the many moving parts of one’s life into an easy to use almost intuitive system of information management and decision-making will give all interactions with technology an effortless feel. These systems will free us of many small burdens, including errands to do list and assorted monitoring tasks – that today add stress and chip away at our mental focus throughout the day. By relying on these integrated systems, which will encompass both the professional and the personal sides of our lives, we’ll be able to use our time more effectively each day.

    Suggestion engines that offer alternative terms to help a user find what she is looking for will be a particularly useful aid in efficiency by consistently stimulating our thinking process, ultimately enhancing our creativity, not preempting it. So there will be plenty of ways to procrastinate too but the point is that when you choose to be productive, you can do so with greater capacity.

    Mr. Schmidt further adds:

    Other advances in the pipeline in areas like robotics, artificial intelligence and voice recognition will introduce efficiency into our lives by providing more seamless forms of engagement with the technology in our daily routines.

    This technology will surely save many of us time in our daily affairs.

    No, Google does not have ambitions to be Skynet! Its machines are not taking over. It is working on providing an assistant to help us manage the one resource humans have failed so miserably to do for generations, manage our time better with a personal interactive assistant.

    On another level, and further technology advances which will have appealed to Google (and perhaps why Facebook was so interested), DeepMind engineers Benjamin Coppin and Mustafa Suleyman recently filed 2 patents which cover intelligent ways to improve the process of “reverse image search,” the ability of uploading a picture to a search engine which allows it to find similar ones. Of course to some extent this is already possible on Google’s image search, but it sometimes returns irrelevant images. The US patent filing 2014/0019484, by the DeepMind engineers reveals a unique approach; it allows the user to input two images, then it lets the algorithm find similarities between the two, and then search for those instead.

    The second patent (filed by the same two engineers) enables the user to home in on a small area of two pictures to improve image search still further.

    And let’s not forget Google is in the business of providing search.

  • David Munroe

    Really exciting Times

  • David Munroe

    Really exciting Times

  • Shane Sammons

    Google is the closest we’ve seen any company to turn into Skynet. If its possible that machines can learn to think for themselves, then im positive we will be fighting in the war following judgement day.

  • Robert Weeks

    We should only ask ourselves this. When will humanity surpass our technology? We have terrorist that kidnap people strap bombs to them and kill other people. Imagine if they have other more effective delivery methods. This is what scares me more than a computer killing me. Anything can be programmed to kill. Even humans. When will our humanity surpass our technology? God help us, I hope its soon.

  • Joanna Thomson

    You know someone really needs to stop this, This is just a bad situation being compounded into a worse, Google will just become a global dictatorship and most like ray kurzwiel will be the immortal leader that enslaves us all with robots. GG Freedom of the human race!