Google's fate hinges on this man: Demis Hassabis

CNBC Television
10 May 202409:38

TLDRDemis Hassabis, a renowned neuroscientist, video game designer, and chess prodigy, is at the forefront of Google's efforts to translate cutting-edge AI research into practical products. As the head of DeepMind, a leading AI research lab acquired by Google, Hassabis has been instrumental in pivotal AI breakthroughs, including the development of AlphaGo, an AI that defeated the world's top Go player. However, Google initially struggled to monetize its AI advancements, with concerns over its reputation leading to a cautious approach. With the rise of competitors like OpenAI and the advent of user-friendly AI applications, Google has shifted its strategy. Hassabis is now tasked with integrating AI technologies across Google's products, aiming to make them beneficial and useful to billions of users. His competitive spirit and past successes, including a hit video game at the age of 17, position him as a key asset in Google's push to turn AI research into profitable products.


  • 🤖 Demis Hassabis, a renowned neuroscientist and video game designer, is pivotal to Google's future in AI, with his work at DeepMind being influential in AI's development.
  • 🧠 The human brain's general learning system is a model for the kind of AI systems Hassabis aims to build, emphasizing the importance of relentless progress in the field.
  • 🚀 Hassabis' early success in the gaming industry and his competitive spirit are seen as valuable assets in Google's race to commercialize AI technologies.
  • 🔍 Google's initial caution in releasing AI technologies due to reputational concerns contrasts with the more aggressive approach of competitors like OpenAI.
  • 📈 The AI arms race has evolved, with a focus now on applications, products, and monetization, where Google finds itself playing catch-up.
  • 🎓 Hassabis' academic achievements, including his work published in Nature, have been significant, but there's a shift towards product development and real-world application.
  • 🧬 AlphaFold, a DeepMind product, is a groundbreaking AI technology for predicting protein structures, which has been open-sourced to accelerate scientific research.
  • 📚 Google's shift from open research sharing to a more product-focused approach was catalyzed by the success of user-friendly AI like OpenAI's chatbot, which gained mainstream attention.
  • 💰 Google is now focusing on turning its AI research into profitable products, with AlphaFold 3 potentially becoming a multi-billion dollar business.
  • 🤝 Commercial partnerships, such as those with Eli Lilly and Novartis for drug discovery, indicate Google's commitment to applying AI research to real-world problems.
  • 🌟 Hassabis' directive to bring AI technologies to every Google product is a testament to the convergence of research and product development, aiming to benefit billions of users.

Q & A

  • What is the significance of Demis Hassabis for Google's future?

    -Demis Hassabis is a key figure in Google's future as he has been behind some of the most critical technical breakthroughs in AI. His leadership is crucial for Google to maintain its position in the AI arms race and to turn AI into actual products that consumers love and use.

  • What is the role of games in developing AI systems?

    -Games serve as a safe environment for AI systems to learn and try out different strategies without real-world consequences. This approach was used by DeepMind, where Hassabis was instrumental, to develop technologies like AlphaGo, which beat the world's top Go player.

  • How did Google's acquisition of DeepMind impact its AI capabilities?

    -Google's acquisition of DeepMind in 2014 for $500 million allowed it to tap into one of the world's leading AI research labs. DeepMind had amassed some of the most prominent experts in deep learning, and Google gave it a long leash to operate independently, which contributed to significant advancements in AI.

  • What is the current challenge that Google faces in the AI industry?

    -Google is struggling to catch up to its mega-cap peers in bringing AI technology to the public. It has been cautious about releasing AI advancements, which has allowed competitors like OpenAI to take the lead in the AI arms race.

  • What is the significance of AlphaFold developed by DeepMind?

    -AlphaFold is a groundbreaking piece of technology that uses AI to help scientists predict the structure of proteins, which has been one of the biggest challenges in biology. DeepMind open-sourced AlphaFold, making it freely available to accelerate drug discovery and fundamental research.

  • How has Google's approach to AI research and product development changed recently?

    -Google has shifted from a cautious approach to a more aggressive one, focusing on turning research into products. This change was prompted by the success of competitors like OpenAI and the realization that the public is ready to embrace AI systems despite their flaws.

  • What is the potential business opportunity for AlphaFold 3?

    -AlphaFold 3 has the potential to become a multi-billion dollar business. It has already secured commercial partners like Eli Lilly and Novartis for drug discovery, indicating its significant commercial value.

  • How does Demis Hassabis's background in video game design influence his approach to AI?

    -Hassabis's experience in video game design, where he learned the importance of usability and fun for success, is now being leveraged at Google to marry cutting-edge technology and research with design and user interface, making AI systems more accessible and user-friendly.

  • What is the importance of the AI research paper published by Google researchers on Transformers?

    -The paper on Transformers was a breakthrough study that improved AI models' ability to process text. It jumpstarted the wave of AI innovation we're seeing today and was used by OpenAI to create its own chatbot, bringing generative AI into the mainstream.

  • Why did Google decide to stop sharing its research with the world before turning it into products?

    -Google made this decision to become more competitive in the AI market. By keeping research proprietary until it could be productized, Google aimed to prevent competitors from leveraging its innovations and to secure a stronger market position.

  • How does Demis Hassabis's competitive spirit and past achievements influence Google's current strategy?

    -Hassabis's competitive nature and his history of success, from being a chess prodigy to shipping a best-selling video game at 17, have made him a driving force within Google. His unit is seen as the engine room, bringing the latest AI technologies to Google's products, which is crucial for Google's strategy to turn AI research into profitable products.



📚 AI's Future and Google's Challenges

The first paragraph discusses the pivotal role of artificial intelligence (AI) in Google's future. It highlights the importance of the human brain as a model for general learning systems and the relentless progress in AI. Demis Hassabis, a key figure in AI breakthroughs, is mentioned for his work with DeepMind, which was acquired by Google. The paragraph also touches on Google's cautious approach to releasing AI technologies, which has led to it losing its lead in the AI arms race. The narrative then shifts to the upcoming Google IO event, where the company is expected to demonstrate its AI capabilities. The focus is on whether Hassabis, a brilliant researcher, can also be a successful product shipper. His past achievements, such as creating a hit video game at 17 and founding Elixir Studios, are presented as evidence of his ability to translate research into marketable products. The paragraph concludes with a reflection on DeepMind's early days, its focus on games for AI learning, and the ambition that has driven Hassabis since childhood.


🚀 Google's AI Strategy and Competitive Landscape

The second paragraph delves into Google's AI strategy and its position in the competitive landscape. It discusses the company's shift from an open research policy to a more product-focused approach, prompted by the success of OpenAI's chatbot, which utilized Google's research on Transformers. The paragraph also covers the commercial potential of AlphaFold, a DeepMind product that predicts protein structures, and its significance in drug discovery and scientific research. The narrative highlights the change in Google's strategy following the public's positive reception of AI systems, despite their flaws. It emphasizes the convergence of research and product development and the importance of user feedback for rapid improvements. The paragraph concludes with a look at Google's efforts to monetize its AI research and the high expectations placed on Hassabis to drive Google's AI initiatives forward, leveraging his competitive spirit and past successes.



💡Demis Hassabis

Demis Hassabis is a renowned British artificial intelligence researcher, neuroscientist, video game designer, and entrepreneur. He is the co-founder and CEO of DeepMind Technologies, which was acquired by Google in 2014. In the video, Hassabis is portrayed as a key figure in the development of AI and a pivotal person whose work could significantly influence Google's future in the AI sector.

💡Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial Intelligence refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions. In the context of the video, AI is the central theme, as it discusses the advancements in AI technology, particularly in the areas of game-solving and its applications in various fields such as drug discovery.


DeepMind is a London-based artificial intelligence company that was founded by Demis Hassabis, Shane Legg, and Mustafa Suleyman. It is known for creating the AlphaGo program, which notably defeated the world's top Go player. The company was acquired by Google and has been instrumental in advancing AI research and development, as discussed in the video.


AlphaGo is an AI program developed by DeepMind that gained significant attention for defeating a world champion Go player. It represents a major milestone in AI, showcasing the potential of AI to master complex tasks. The video highlights AlphaGo as an example of the groundbreaking work done by DeepMind.

💡AI Arms Race

The term 'AI Arms Race' refers to the competitive development of AI technology among major tech companies and nations. The video discusses how Google, under Hassabis's leadership, is trying to maintain a competitive edge in this race, particularly against rivals like OpenAI.

💡Google IO

Google IO is an annual developer conference held by Google that focuses on the latest developments in technology and software. In the video, it is mentioned as an important event where Google, with Hassabis, is expected to demonstrate their advancements in AI technology.


Monetization in the context of the video refers to the process of converting AI technology and research into profitable products or services. It is a key challenge that Google and Hassabis are facing as they aim to commercialize AI innovations.


AlphaFold is a DeepMind-developed AI program that predicts the 3D structure of proteins, which is a significant challenge in biology. The video discusses how AlphaFold has been made freely available to the scientific community, potentially leading to advancements in drug discovery.


In the field of AI, Transformers is a type of AI model that has significantly improved the ability of machines to process and understand text data. The video mentions a breakthrough study on Transformers by Google researchers, which has had a profound impact on the development of AI applications, including chatbots.

💡Generative AI

Generative AI refers to AI systems that can create new content, such as images, text, or music, that is similar to the content they have been trained on. The video discusses how Google has been cautious about releasing generative AI products but has become more aggressive due to competition.

💡Elixir Studios

Elixir Studios is a video game company that was founded by Demis Hassabis. The video mentions it as part of Hassabis's background, highlighting his experience in creating successful and user-friendly products, which is relevant to his current role in Google's AI initiatives.

💡AI Research to Products

The process of translating AI research findings into tangible products that can be used by the general public is a key focus in the video. It discusses the shift in Google's strategy from purely academic research to developing AI technologies that have real-world applications and commercial potential.


Demis Hassabis, a neuroscientist and chessmaster, is a key figure in Google's AI development.

Hassabis aims to build a general learning system inspired by the human brain.

He has been involved in critical AI breakthroughs, including solving the game of Go a decade earlier than expected.

Google is now focusing on product monetization in the AI arms race, after initially being cautious about its reputation.

Hassabis is tasked with fixing Google's lost lead in AI ahead of Google IO, a pivotal tech event.

He points to his first product, a hit video game at age 17, as evidence of his ability to ship consumer products.

Google acquired DeepMind in 2014, recognizing it as a leading AI research lab.

DeepMind developed its technology through games like AlphaGo, which beat the world's top Go player.

Hassabis' ambition has been to work on AI since childhood, considering it profoundly impactful.

AlphaFold, a DeepMind product, uses AI to predict protein structures, a significant challenge in biology.

Google initially gave away its biggest products and research, inadvertently aiding its competitors.

The release of chatbots like Chat GPT by Open AI brought generative AI into the mainstream.

Google shifted its policy to prioritize product development over academic publishing.

Hassabis is now focused on bringing AI technologies to every Google product to serve billions of users.

The convergence of research and product development is key to Google's strategy in AI.

Mixed feedback from users has led to rapid improvements in Google's AI models.

Hassabis' competitive spirit and experience in shipping successful products may be what Google needs to regain its lead in AI.