DeepMind’s co-founder says artificial intelligence is set to crack many of the toughest problems in science, from the nature of life to nuclear fusion

Technology



30 December 2020

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Demis Hassabis

Rocio Montoya

IN THE run up to the match, Lee Sedol was feeling confident. He was about to play an artificial intelligence that had been trained to play the board game Go. But as one of the world’s best players of the game himself, Lee thought he would easily win. “I thought AlphaGo was based on probability calculation and it was merely a machine,” he said at the time. Even after he lost the first game of the match, Lee believed it was just because AlphaGo had made no mistakes. Then, in the now infamous move 37 of the second game, the AI seemed to be rewriting the rules of Go and played a move no human would have dreamed of. Lee, who ultimately lost the match 4-1, was dumbstruck: “This move was really creative and beautiful,” he said.

This contest marked a pivotal moment in the development of AI, and Demis Hassabis was one of the main people responsible for it. In 2010, he co-founded the research company DeepMind and began working on AIs that could play games better than people. At the time, Go was considered too hard for artificial intelligence to master. It has more possible moves than there are atoms in the universe. Yet the win over Lee in 2016 catapulted DeepMind – and Hassabis – to worldwide fame. AlphaGo’s victory was the biggest moment in AI since IBM’s Deep Blue defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.

Since then, Hassabis’s firm, which is now a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has been honing its algorithms and looking beyond games. In November, its new AI, AlphaFold, …