Google's acquisition of artificial intelligence startup DeepMind and the fascination with robotics

The company has made a spate of acquisitions last year, which are linked to robotics and have become a part of the company's Google X division.

Google on Sunday said it had agreed to acquire privately held artificial intelligence company DeepMind Technologies. Tech website Re/code, which reported news of the deal earlier, said the price was $400 million, although, as of yet, Google has not confirmed the price.

 

DeepMind uses general-purpose learning algorithms for applications such as simulations, e-commerce and games, according to the company's website. Google has made a number of acquisitions over the last year, many of them far removed from their core business of search and advertising. Many of these buys by Google, especially those linked to robotics have become a part of the company's Google X division. Which is fast becoming the home to all those companies who cannot be categorised under existing business heads.

 

The Google X division is responsible for the company's moon-shot projects such as Google's self-driving cars, Google Glass etc. Some of the recent acquisitions, which we have mentioned before, include: Schaft.inc, which is a Japanese firm specialising in Humanoid robots, Redwood Robotics, a US-based firm dealing with Robotic Arms and the most important of all Boston Dynamics, which working in the field of robotics as well. Other firms that deal with robotics on the list are: Meka Robotics, Holomni and Bot & Dolly. Another interesting purchase by Google made in early 2013 was that of the Canadian Deep Neural Networks research firm, aptly named DNNresearch. Deep learning has many applications in the field of AI. Again, this company has found itself housed under Google X.

 

It is also clear that these acquisitions are not just for the value of the patents that these companies possess. Take the case of Boston Dynamics which has already developed something called the Big Dog. This is a robotic animal which has four legs, can walk, run, climb and carry heavy loads. And at 3ft long, 2ft 6in tall it may be the right size for a pooch, just that all the nuts and bolts end up making this dog, at 108 kgs, the heaviest dog we've heard of.

 

Googles acquisition of artificial intelligence startup DeepMind and the fascination with robotics

Andy Rubin and the robots his team at Google X is developing (Image credit: New York Times)

It's not clear how Google plans to use its latest robotics acquisitions but it is likely that were likely to see more consumer products from Google, where technology from these acquisitions make their way into our lives.  Should Google's obsession with robotics worry us? Is the company likely to come with an army of robots pretty soon? Unlikely for now.

 

But as this piece in the Guardian points out, "What makes the robotics acquisitions interesting is what they reveal about the scale of Google's ambitions. For this is a company whose like we have not seen before. Because if even a fraction of the company's ambitions eventually come to fruition, Google will become one of the most powerful corporations on Earth."

 

However both Larry Page and Sergey Brin will face several challenges before everyday robotics from Google become a successful reality. According to this piece in the Economist, "the challenge for Mr Page will be to ensure that these new businesses make the most of Google’s impressive infrastructure without being stifled by the bureaucracy.

 

The article also points out that for now, "Google has also protected its in-house hardware projects, such as Google Glass and self-driving cars, from succumbing to corporate inertia by nurturing them in its secretive Google X development lab. It has also given its most important projects high-profile bosses with the clout to champion them internally. The new head of Google’s robotics business is Andy Rubin, who led the successful development of Android."

 

Will this protection get converted into commercial success for the company? Will we see a real android walk out Google's labs and into our homes any time soon? Perhaps things may be clearer post-the-public launch of Google Glass.

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