Demis Hassabis

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Demis Hassabis
Born (1976-07-27) 27 July 1976 (age 38)
Nationality British
Alma mater
Thesis Neural processes underpinning episodic memory (2009)
Doctoral advisor Eleanor Maguire[2]
Known for
Influences Peter Molyneux
Notable awards

Demis Hassabis (Greek: Ντέμης Χασσάπης, born 27 July 1976) is a British Cypriot[4] artificial intelligence researcher, neuroscientist, computer game designer, and world-class gamer.[1][3][5][6][7]


A child prodigy in chess, Hassabis reached master standard at the age of 13 with an Elo rating of 2300 (at the time the second highest rated player in the world Under-14 after Judit Polgár who had a rating of 2335, and is 4 days older than Hassabis).[8] After finishing his A-Level exams two years early 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[8] from the Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge. After running companies for several years, Hassabis returned to academia to obtain his PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from University College London (UCL) in 2009[2] and continued his neuroscience and artificial intelligence research as a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit, UCL and as a visiting scientist jointly at MIT and Harvard.[4]


Following his graduation from Cambridge, Hassabis worked as a lead AI programmer on the Lionhead Studios title Black & White before founding Elixir Studios in 1998, a London-based independent games developer. He grew the company to 60 people, signing publishing deals with Vivendi Universal and Microsoft, and was the executive designer of the BAFTA-nominated Republic: The Revolution and Evil Genius games.

The release of Elixir's first game, Republic: The Revolution, an ambitious and highly unusual political simulation game,[9] was delayed several times. The final game was reduced from its original vision and greeted with lukewarm reviews, receiving a Metacritic score of 62/100. Evil Genius fared much better with a score of 77/100. In April 2005 the intellectual property and technology rights were sold to various publishers and the studio was closed.

Hassabis then left the video game industry, switching to cognitive neuroscience, in order to find inspiration from the brain for new algorithmic ideas for AI. Working in the field of autobiographical memory and amnesia he authored several influential papers.[1] His most highly cited paper,[10] published in PNAS, argued that patients with damage to their hippocampus, known to cause amnesia, were also unable to imagine themselves in new experiences. Importantly this established a link between the constructive process of imagination and the reconstructive process of episodic memory recall. Based on these findings and a follow-up fMRI study,[11] Hassabis developed his ideas into 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.[12] This work was widely covered in the mainstream media[13] and was listed in the top 10 scientific breakthroughs of the year (at number 9) in any field by the journal Science.[14]

Recently some of Hassabis' findings and interpretations have been challenged by other researchers. A paper by Larry R. Squire and colleagues [15] reported a dissociation between hippocampal lesions and imagination deficits as well as between amnesia and imagination deficits. Furthermore, Squire and colleagues questioned whether the lesions of the patients tested by Hassabis and colleagues were restricted to the hippocampus. Recent studies support the original findings,[16] although the debate is ongoing.[17]

In 2011, he left academia to co-found DeepMind Technologies, a London-based machine learning startup.

In January 2014 DeepMind was acquired by Google for a reported £400 million (approximately $625 million), where Hassabis is now Vice President of Engineering leading their general AI projects.[4][18][19][20][21][22][23]

Awards and honours[edit]

Hassabis won the world games championship (called the 'Pentamind') at the Mind Sports Olympiad a record five times, prior to his retirement from competitive play in 2003, and at the time was regarded as the best all-round games player in the world.[24] He is an expert player of many games including chess, Diplomacy, shogi and poker. He has cashed at the World Series of Poker six times including in the Main Event.

Hassabis was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA) in 2009 for his game design work.[25] He was awarded the prestigious Mullard Award by the Royal Society in 2014. [26] He was included in the 2013 'Smart 50' list by Wired,[27] and listed as the third most influential Londoner in 2014 by the London Evening Standard newspaper.[28]


  1. ^ a b c List of publications from Google Scholar
  2. ^ a b Hassabis, Demis (2009). Neural processes underpinning episodic memory (PhD thesis). University College London. 
  3. ^ a b c Demis Hassabis at the Internet Movie Database
  4. ^ a b c Gardner, Jasmine (31 January 2014). "Exclusive interview: meet Demis Hassabis, London's megamind who just sold his company to Google for £400m". Evening Standard. Retrieved 3 February 2014. 
  5. ^ Demis Hassabis at MobyGames
  6. ^ Demis Hassabis rating card at FIDE
  7. ^ Demis Hassabis: the secretive computer boffin with the £400 million brain Daily Telegraph 2014-01-28
  8. ^ a b 15 facts about Demis (Guardian)
  9. ^ Game plays politics with your PC, BBC, Alfred Hermida, 3 September 2003 retrieved 2011-04-29
  10. ^ Hassabis, D.; Kumaran, D.; Vann, S. D.; Maguire, E. A. (2007). "Patients with hippocampal amnesia cannot imagine new experiences". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104 (5): 1726–31. doi:10.1073/pnas.0610561104. PMC 1773058. PMID 17229836. 
  11. ^ Hassabis, D.; Kumaran, D.; Maguire, E. A. (2007). "Using Imagination to Understand the Neural Basis of Episodic Memory". Journal of Neuroscience 27 (52): 14365–14374. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4549-07.2007. PMC 2571957. PMID 18160644. 
  12. ^ Hassabis, D.; Maguire, E. A. (2007). "Deconstructing episodic memory with construction". Trends in Cognitive Sciences 11 (7): 299–306. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2007.05.001. PMID 17548229. 
  13. ^ NY Times Article
  14. ^ The News Staff (2007). "BREAKTHROUGH OF THE YEAR: The Runners-Up". Science 318 (5858): 1844a–. doi:10.1126/science.318.5858.1844a. 
  15. ^ Squire, L. R.; Van Der Horst, A. S.; McDuff, S. G. R.; Frascino, J. C.; Hopkins, R. O.; Mauldin, K. N. (2010). "Role of the hippocampus in remembering the past and imagining the future". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107 (44): 19044. doi:10.1073/pnas.1014391107. 
  16. ^ Maguire, E. A.; Hassabis, D. (2011). "Role of the hippocampus in imagination and future thinking". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108 (11): E39. doi:10.1073/pnas.1018876108. 
  17. ^ Squire, L. R.; McDuff, S. G.; Frascino, J. C. (2011). "Reply to Maguire and Hassabis: Autobiographical memory and future imagining". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108 (11): E40. doi:10.1073/pnas.1019643108. 
  18. ^ Google buys artificial intelligence firm DeepMind Technologies for £400m
  19. ^ Google buys UK artificial intelligence start-up DeepMind, BBC News
  20. ^
  21. ^ Mnih, V; Kavukcuoglu, K; Silver, D; Rusu, A. A.; Veness, J; Bellemare, M. G.; Graves, A; Riedmiller, M; Fidjeland, A. K.; Ostrovski, G; Petersen, S; Beattie, C; Sadik, A; Antonoglou, I; King, H; Kumaran, D; Wierstra, D; Legg, S; Hassabis, D (2015). "Human-level control through deep reinforcement learning". Nature 518 (7540): 529–33. doi:10.1038/nature14236. PMID 25719670. 
  22. ^ Schölkopf, B (2015). "Artificial intelligence: Learning to see and act". Nature 518 (7540): 486–7. doi:10.1038/518486a. PMID 25719660. 
  23. ^ Gibney, E (2015). "Deep Mind algorithm beats people at classic video games". Nature 518 (7540): 465–6. doi:10.1038/518465a. PMID 25719643. 
  24. ^ "Player Profile demis_hassabis". Retrieved 2014-01-28. 
  25. ^ Child prodigy stands by originality, The Guardian, 9 September 2004, by Steve Boxer,
  26. ^ Mullard Award press release
  27. ^ The Wired Smart List 2013
  28. ^ London's top 1000 most influential people