Demis Hassabis

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Demis Hassabis
Born (1976-07-27) 27 July 1976 (age 40)
London, England
Nationality British
Education Christ's College, London
(state comprehensive school)
Alma mater
Thesis Neural processes underpinning episodic memory (2009)
Doctoral advisor Eleanor Maguire[2]
Known for
Influences Peter Molyneux
Notable awards

Demis Hassabis (born 27 July 1976) is a British artificial intelligence researcher, neuroscientist, computer game designer and World-class gamer.[1][3][4][5][6]

Early life[edit]

Demis Hassabis was born and grew up in North London. He is of Greek Cypriot and Singaporean descent.[7][8] 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 captained many of the England junior chess teams.[9]


Hassabis was educated at Christ's College,[10] a state comprehensive school in East Finchley in North London. After completing his A-Level and S-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 at the University of Cambridge, where he studied the Computer Science Tripos graduating in 1997 with a Double First[9] from the Computer Laboratory, 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[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 Eidos Interactive, 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, a highly ambitious and unusual political simulation game,[11] 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, a tongue-in-cheek Bond simulator, 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.[12] Working in the field of autobiographical memory and amnesia he authored several influential papers.[1] His most highly cited paper to date,[13] 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,[14] 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.[15] This work was widely covered in the mainstream media[16] and was listed in the top 10 scientific breakthroughs of the year (at number 9) in any field by the journal Science.[17]

Recently some of Hassabis' findings and interpretations have been challenged by other researchers. A paper by Larry R. Squire and colleagues [18] 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,[19] although the debate is ongoing.[20]

In 2010, he co-founded and was CEO of DeepMind Technologies, a London-based machine learning startup, specializing in building general-purpose learning algorithms.

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][21][22][23][24][25][26]

In October 2015, DeepMind, with AlphaGo program, achieved an AI 'breakthrough' by beating the European Go champion.[27] In March 2016, AlphaGo also beat Lee Sedol, one of the highest ranking Go players in the world, winning 4 games out of a 5 game series.

Awards and honours[edit]

Hassabis won the world games championship (called the 'Pentamind' [28]) 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.[29] 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.[30] He was awarded the prestigious Mullard Award by the Royal Society in 2014.[31] He was included in the 2013 'Smart 50' list by Wired,[32] listed as the third most influential Londoner in 2014 by the London Evening Standard newspaper,[33] and listed in the FT's top 50 entrepreneurs in Europe.[34]


  1. ^ a b c Demis Hassabis's publications indexed by Google Scholar, a service provided by Google
  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 rating card at FIDE
  6. ^ Demis Hassabis: the secretive computer boffin with the £400 million brain Daily Telegraph 2014-01-28
  7. ^ Exclusive interview: meet Demis Hassabis, London's megamind who just sold his company to Google for £400m Evening Standard 2014-01-31
  8. ^ Lunch with the FT: Demis Hassabis Financial Times 2015-01-30
  9. ^ a b Samuel Gibbs. "Demis Hassabis: 15 facts about the DeepMind Technologies founder". the Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  10. ^ "Exclusive interview: meet Demis Hassabis, London's megamind who just sold his company to Google for £400m". London Evening Standard. 31 January 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2016. 
  11. ^ Game plays politics with your PC, BBC, Alfred Hermida, 3 September 2003 retrieved 2011-04-29
  12. ^ Nature Commentary
  13. ^ Hassabis, D.; Kumaran, D.; Vann, S. D.; Maguire, E. A. (2007). "Patients with hippocampal amnesia cannot imagine new experiences" (PDF). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104 (5): 1726–31. doi:10.1073/pnas.0610561104. PMC 1773058. PMID 17229836. 
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ "Amnesiacs May Be Cut Off From Past and Future Alike". The New York Times. 23 January 2007. 
  17. ^ The News Staff (2007). "BREAKTHROUGH OF THE YEAR: The Runners-Up". Science 318 (5858): 1844a–. doi:10.1126/science.318.5858.1844a. 
  18. ^ 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): 19044–19048. doi:10.1073/pnas.1014391107. 
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ 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. 
  21. ^ Samuel Gibbs. "Google buys UK artificial intelligence startup Deepmind for £400m". the Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  22. ^ "Google buys UK artificial intelligence start-up DeepMind". BBC News. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  23. ^ Liz Gannes. "Exclusive: Google to Buy Artificial Intelligence Startup DeepMind for $400M". Re/code. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  24. ^ 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. 
  25. ^ Schölkopf, B (2015). "Artificial intelligence: Learning to see and act". Nature 518 (7540): 486–7. doi:10.1038/518486a. PMID 25719660. 
  26. ^ Gibney, E (2015). "Deep Mind algorithm beats people at classic video games". Nature 518 (7540): 465–6. doi:10.1038/518465a. PMID 25719643. 
  27. ^ "Google achieves AI 'breakthrough' by beating Go champion". BBC News. 
  28. ^
  29. ^ "Player Profile demis_hassabis". Retrieved 2014-01-28. 
  30. ^ Steve Boxer. "Child prodigy stands by originality". the Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  31. ^ "Acclaimed Neuroscientist and Google DeepMind founder wins Royal Society Mullard Award". 
  32. ^ "The Wired Smart List 2013". Wired UK. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  33. ^ "Leading the way: Top 20 Londoners in The 1000 power list". Evening Standard. 16 October 2014. 
  34. ^ "FT Top 50".