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, entrepreneur, and world-class games player.[1][3][4][5][6]

Early life[edit]

Demis Hassabis was born to a Greek Cypriot father and a Chinese Singaporean mother and grew up in North London.[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, 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]



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’’.[11]

Elixir Studios[edit]

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.[12] In addition to managing the company, which he grew to 60 people, Hassabis served as executive designer of the BAFTA-nominated games Republic: The Revolution and Evil Genius.[11]

The release of Elixir's first game, Republic: The Revolution, a highly ambitious and unusual political simulation game,[13] 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.[14] Evil Genius, a tongue-in-cheek Bond simulator, fared much better with a score of 75/100.[15] In April 2005 the intellectual property and technology rights were sold to various publishers and the studio was closed.[16][17]


Following Elixir Studios, Hassabis returned to academia. He earned a PhD in cognitive neuroscience at University College London where he worked with Prof Eleanor Maguire and Prof Geraint Rees, seeking to find inspiration in the human brain for new AI algorithms.[18] Hassabis then pursued postdoctoral work at MIT, where he worked with Prof Tomaso Poggio, and Harvard, where he worked with Prof Dan Schacter. He then earned a Sir Henry Wellcome postdoctoral fellowship and continued his research at UCL in collaboration with Prof Peter Dayan.

Working in the field of autobiographical memory and amnesia, he co-authored several influential papers[19] published in Nature, Science, Neuron and PNAS. His most highly cited paper to date,[20] published in PNAS, showed systematically for the first time that patients with damage to their hippocampus, known to cause amnesia, were surprisingly 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,[21] 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.[22] This work received widespread coverage in the mainstream media[23] and was listed in the top 10 scientific breakthroughs of the year in any field by the journal Science.[24]


Main article: DeepMind Technologies

In 2010, Hassabis co-founded DeepMind Technologies,[25] 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 as postdocs at University College London’s Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit.[26] Hassabis also recruited his university friend and Elixir partner David Silver.[27]

DeepMind’s mission is to ‘solve intelligence’ and then use intelligence ‘to solve everything else’.[28] 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.[29]

DeepMind’s early investors included several high-profile tech entrepreneurs.[30][31] In 2014, Google purchased DeepMind for £400 million, leading to its rechristening as ‘Google DeepMind’, although it has remained an independent entity based in London.[32]

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 Lee Sedol in March 2016.[33][34] Other DeepMind accomplishments include creating a Neural Turing Machine,[35] advancing research on AI safety,[36][37] and the creation of a partnership with the UK National Health Service and Moorfields Eye Hospital to improve medical service and identify the onset of degenerative eye conditions.[38] 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.[39]

Awards and Achievements[edit]



Hassabis is an expert player of many games including:[12]

  • chess: ELO rating of 2300 at age 13 (second-highest in the world for his age).
  • Diplomacy: 4th in 2006 World Diplomacy Convention, 3th in 2004 EuroDipCon, World Champion by team in 2004.
  • Poker: he has cashed at the World Series of Poker six times including in the Main Event.
  • Shogi
  • multi-games events at the London Mind Sports Olympiad: World champion Pentamind (a record five times: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003)[40] and World champion Decamentathlon (twice: 2003, 2004).

Entrepreneur and sciences[edit]

Science Magazine Top 10 Scientific Breakthroughs of 2007 (#9, for research on imagination)[41]

Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (2009)[42]

Sir Henry Wellcome postdoctoral fellowship (2009)[43]

Fellow Benefactor, Queen's College, Cambridge [44]

Mullard Award of the Royal Society (2014)[45]

Third most influential Londoner in 2014 according to the London Evening Standard (2014)[46]

Listed on Wired’s ‘Smart 50’ (2015)[47]

FT’s top 50 Entrepreneurs in Europe (2015)[48]

FT Digital Entrepreneur of the Year (2016)

Honorary Fellow, University College London [49]

Evening Standard list of influential Londoners, number 6 (2016)[50]

Royal Academy of Engineering Silver Medal (2016)[51]

WIRED Leadership in Innovation (2016) [52]


Cambridge Computer Laboratory Company of the Year (2014)[53]

Two Nature front cover articles (2015 and 2016) [54][55]

Honorary 9-dan Go rank from Korean Baduk Association (2016) [56]

Cannes Lion Grand Prix for AlphaGo (2016) [57]

WIRED Innovation in AI Award (2016) [52]

City AM Innovative Company of the Year (2016) [58]


  1. ^ a b Demis Hassabis's publications indexed by 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 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. ^ a b Gibbs, Samual (January 28, 2014), "Demis Hassabis: 15 Facts About DeepMind Technologies Founder", The Guardian 
  12. ^ a b Demis Hassabis Personal Website, 2014 
  13. ^ Hermida, Alfred (3 September 2003), "Game plays politics with your PC", BBC, retrieved 29 April 2011 
  14. ^ "Republic: The Revolution". Metacritic. Retrieved 2016-07-30. 
  15. ^ "Evil Genius". Metacritic. Retrieved 2016-07-30. 
  16. ^ Remo, Chris (July 14, 2009), "Rebellion Acquires Vivendi Licenses, Considers New Franchise Titles", Gamasutra 
  17. ^ "Elixir Studios", IGN 
  18. ^ Nature Commentary
  19. ^ "Demis Hassabis - Google Scholar Citations". Retrieved 2016-07-30. 
  20. ^ 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 1773058Freely accessible. PMID 17229836. 
  21. ^ 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 2571957Freely accessible. PMID 18160644. 
  22. ^ 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. 
  23. ^ "Amnesiacs May Be Cut Off From Past and Future Alike", The New York Times, 23 January 2007 
  24. ^ The News Staff (2007). "BREAKTHROUGH OF THE YEAR: The Runners-Up". Science. 318 (5858): 1844a–. doi:10.1126/science.318.5858.1844a. 
  25. ^ "Google DeepMind". Retrieved 2016-07-30. 
  26. ^ Rowan, David (22 June 2015), "DeepMind: Inside Google's Super Brain", Wired 
  27. ^ Metz, Cade (19 May 2016), "What the AI Behind AlphaGo Can Teach Us About Being Human", Wired 
  28. ^ Simonite, Tom (31 March 2016), "How Google Plans to Solve Artificial Intelligence", MIT Technology Review 
  29. ^ Simonite, Tom (25 February 2015), "Google's AI Masters Space Invaders But Still Sucks at Pacman", MIT Technology Review 
  30. ^ "DeepMind Technologies", Angel, 26 January 2015 
  31. ^ Gannes, Liz (26 January 2014), "Exclusive: Google to Buy Artificial Intelligence Startup DeepMind for $400m", Recode 
  32. ^ "Google to Buy Artificial Intelligence Company DeepMind", Reuters, 26 January 2015 
  33. ^ Metz, Cade (27 January 2016), "In a Huge Breakthrough, Google's AI Beats a Top Player at the Game of Go", Wired 
  34. ^ Yan, Sophia (12 March 2016), "A Google Computer Victorious Over the World's Go Champion", CNN Money 
  35. ^ "Google's Secretive DeepMind Startup Unveils a Neural Turing Machine", MIT Technology Review, 29 October 2014 
  36. ^ "Google Developing Kill Switch for AI", BBC, 8 June 2016 
  37. ^ Cuthbertson, Anthony (8 June 2016), "Google's Big Red Button Could Save the World", Newsweek 
  38. ^ Hern, Alex (5 July 2016), "Google DeepMind pairs with NHS to use machine learning to fight blindness", The Guardian 
  39. ^ Silver, David (17 June 2016), "Deep Reinforcement Learning", DeepMind Blog 
  40. ^ "Pentamind", Mind Sports Olympiad, 2015 
  41. ^ the news staff (21 December 2007), "The Runners-Up", Science 
  42. ^ "Artificial Intelligence and the Future with Demis Hassabis", Royal Television Society, 2015 
  43. ^ Rowley, Tom (28 January 2014), "Demis Hassabis, the Secretive Computer Boffin with the 400 Million Dollar Brain", The Telegraph 
  44. ^ "Queens College Philanthropic News", Queens College 
  45. ^ "Acclaimed Neuroscientist and Google DeepMind founder wins Royal Society Mullard Award", The Royal Society, 21 November 2014 
  46. ^ "Leading the way: Top 20 Londoners in The 1000 power list", The Evening Standard, 16 October 2014 
  47. ^ Redman, Craig (9 December 2013), "The Wired Smart List 2013", Wired 
  48. ^ "Europe's Top 50 Tech Entrepreneurs", Financial Times, 19 June 2015 
  49. ^ "Honorary Fellows of UCL", UCL Website 
  50. ^ Crerar, Pippa (7 September 2016), "The Progress 1000: Mayor Sadiq Khan leads the Evening Standard's list of London's most influential people", Evening Standard 
  51. ^ "Royal Academy of Engineering Silver Medal", Royal Academy of Engineering, 2015 
  52. ^ a b Manthorpe, Rowland (9 November 2016), "DeepMind and OpenBionics among the winners at the WIRED Audi Innovation Awards", WIRED 
  53. ^ "Cambridge Computer Laboratory Hall of Fame Awards", University of Cambridge Website, 2016 
  54. ^ "Human-Level Control Through Deep Reinforcement Learning", Nature, 25 February 2015 
  55. ^ "Mastering the Game of Go with Deep Neural Networks and Tree Search", Nature, 27 January 2016 
  56. ^ Kahng, Jee Heun (15 March 2016), "Google artificial intelligence program beats S. Korean Go pro with 4-1 score", Reuters 
  57. ^ Wentz, Laurel (22 June 2016), "Google DeepMind AlphaGo in U.K. Wins Innovation Grand Prix", Reuters 
  58. ^ "City AM Awards 2016", City AM Website