Demis Hassabis – 1/12
|Born||27 July 1976
|Education||Christ’s College, Finchley|
|Thesis||Neural processes underpinning episodic memory (2009)|
|Doctoral advisor||Eleanor Maguire|
Demis Hassabis FREng FRSA (born 27 July 1976) is a British artificial intelligence researcher, neuroscientist, computer game designer, entrepreneur, and world-class games player.
Education and early life
Hassabis was born to a Greek Cypriot father and a Chinese Singaporean mother and grew up in North London. A child prodigy in chess, Hassabis reached master standard at the age of 13 with an Elo rating of 2300 and captained many of the England junior chess teams.
Hassabis was educated at Queen Elizabeth’s School, Barnet, as well as Christ’s College, Finchley, a state-funded comprehensive school in East Finchley, North London. After completing his GCE Advanced Level and Scholarship Level exams early at the age of 16, he began his computer games career at Bullfrog Productions, first level designing on Syndicate and then at 17 co-designing and lead programming on the classic game Theme Park, with the games designer Peter Molyneux. Theme Park, a celebrated simulation game, sold several million copies and won a Golden Joystick Award, and inspired a whole genre of management sim games. Hassabis then left Bullfrog to take up his place at Queens’ College, Cambridge, where he studied the Computer Science Tripos graduating in 1997 with a Double First from the University of Cambridge. After running technology companies for several years, Hassabis returned to academia to obtain his PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from University College London (UCL) in 2009 supervised by Eleanor Maguireand continued his neuroscience and artificial intelligence research as a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at the Gatsby Charitable Foundation Computational Neuroscience Unit, UCL and as a visiting scientist jointly at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University.
Career and research
Subsequent to his graduation from Cambridge, Hassabis worked at Lionhead Studios. Renowned games designer Peter Molyneux, with whom Hassabis had worked at Bullfrog Productions, had recently founded the company. At Lionhead, Hassabis worked as lead AI programmer on the iconic god game Black & White.
Hassabis left Lionhead in 1998 to found Elixir Studios, a London-based independent games developer, signing publishing deals with Eidos Interactive, Vivendi Universal and Microsoft. In addition to managing the company, which he grew to 60 people, Hassabis served as executive designer of the BAFTA-nominated games Republic: The Revolutionand Evil Genius.
The release of Elixir’s first game, Republic: The Revolution, a highly ambitious and unusual political simulation game, was delayed due to its huge scope. The final game was reduced from its original vision and greeted with lukewarm reviews, receiving a Metacritic score of 62/100. Evil Genius, a tongue-in-cheek Bond villain simulator, fared much better with a score of 75/100. In April 2005 the intellectual property and technology rights were sold to various publishers and the studio was closed.
Following Elixir Studios, Hassabis returned to academia. He earned a PhD in cognitive neuroscience at University College London, where he sought to find inspiration in the human brain for new AI algorithms. Hassabis then pursued postdoctoral work at MIT and Harvard before earning a Henry Wellcome postdoctoral research fellowship to continue his research at UCL.
Working in the field of autobiographical memory and amnesia, he co-authored several influential papers published in Nature, Science, Neuron and PNAS. His most highly cited paper to date, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, showed systematically for the first time that patients with damage to their hippocampus, known to cause amnesia, were also unable to imagine themselves in new experiences. The finding established a link between the constructive process of imagination and the reconstructive process of episodic memory recall. Based on this work and a follow-up fMRI study, Hassabis developed a new theoretical account of the episodic memory system identifying scene construction, the generation and online maintenance of a complex and coherent scene, as a key process underlying both memory recall and imagination. This work received widespread coverage in the mainstream media and was listed in the top 10 scientific breakthroughs of the year in any field by the journal Science.
In 2010, Hassabis co-founded DeepMind, a London-based machine learning AI startup, with Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman. Hassabis and Suleyman had been friends since childhood, and he met Legg when both were postdocs at University College London’s Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit. Hassabis also recruited his university friend and Elixir partner David Silver.
DeepMind’s mission is to “solve intelligence” and then use intelligence “to solve everything else”. More concretely, DeepMind aims to meld insights from neuroscience and machine learning with new developments in computing hardware to unlock increasingly powerful general-purpose learning algorithms that will work towards the creation of an artificial general intelligence (AGI). The company has focused on training learning algorithms to master games, and in December 2013 it famously announced that it had made a pioneering breakthrough by training an algorithm called a Deep Q-Network (DQN) to play Atari games at a superhuman level by only using the raw pixels on the screen as inputs.
DeepMind’s early investors includ ed several high-profile tech entrepreneurs. In 2014, Google purchased DeepMind for £400 million, although it has remained an independent entity based in London.
Since the Google acquisition, the company has notched a number of significant achievements, perhaps the most notable being the creation of AlphaGo, a program that defeated world champion Lee Sedol at the complex game of Go. Go had been considered a holy grail of AI, for its high number of possible board positions and resistance to existing programming techniques. However, AlphaGo beat European champion Fan Hui 5-0 in October 2015 before winning 4-1 against former world champion Lee Sedol in March 2016. Other DeepMind accomplishments includ e creating a Neural Turing Machine, advancing research on AI safety,and the creation of a partnership with the National Health Service of the United Kingdom and Moorfields Eye Hospital to improve medical service and identify the onset of degenerative eye conditions. DeepMind has also been responsible for technical advancements in machine learning, having produced a number of award-winning papers. In particular, the company has made significant advances in deep learning and reinforcement learning, and pioneered the field of deep reinforcement learning which combines these two methods.
Awards and honours
Entrepreneurial and scientific
- Science Magazine Top 10 Scientific Breakthroughs of 2007 (for neuroscience research on imagination)
- Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA) 2009
- Henry Wellcome postdoctoral research fellowship (2010)
- Fellow Benefactor, Queens’ College, Cambridge
- Mullard Award of the Royal Society (2014)
- Third most influential Londoner in 2014 according to the London Evening Standard (2014)
- Listed on Wired’s ‘Smart 50’ (2015)
- Financial Times top 50 Entrepreneurs in Europe (2015)
- Financial Times Digital Entrepreneur of the Year (2016)
- Honorary Fellow, University College London
- London Evening Standard list of influential Londoners, number 6 (2016)
- Royal Academy of Engineering Silver Medal (2016)
- WIRED Leadership in Innovation (2016)
- Nature’s “ten people who mattered this year” (2016)
- Science Magazine Top 10 Scientific Breakthroughs of 2016 (for AlphaGo)
- Time 100: The 100 Most Influential People (2017)
- The Asian Awards: Outstanding Achievement in Science and Technology (2017)
- Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (2017)
- Cambridge Computer Laboratory Company of the Year (2014)
- Two Nature front cover articles (2015 and 2016)
- Honorary 9-dan Go rank for AlphaGo from Korean Baduk Association (2016)
- Cannes Lion Grand Prix for AlphaGo (2016)
- WIRED Innovation in AI Award (2016)
- City AM Innovative Company of the Year (2016)
Hassabis is an expert player of many games including:
- Chess: achieved Master standard at age 13 with ELO rating of 2300 (at the time the second-highest in the world for his age).
- Diplomacy: World Team Champion in 2004, 4th in 2006 World Championship, 3rd in 2004 European Championship.
- Poker: cashed at the World Series of Poker six times including in the Main Event.
- Shogi: joint 1st in the 1999 British Shogi Championship.
- multi-games events at the London Mind Sports Olympiad: World Pentamind Champion (a record five times: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003) and World Decamentathlon Champion (twice: 2003, 2004).