DLD conference in MunichGetty
DeepMind has struck a critical new partnership with Unity Technologies, the game-development platform used by half the world’s mobile games, including Temple Run and Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, and it’s one that could also help its nascent business. For now, it will take DeepMind’s research on deep-reinforcement learning to the next level, says Danny Lange, vice president of AI at Unity, who spoke to Forbes from the sidelines of the O’Reilly AI conference in London on Wednesday. Deep-reinforcement learning is an approach to AI that trains an algorithm with positive and negative signals.
Unity already has a freely available toolkit for training independent agents in a simulation (an approach to AI for training a neural network), but this partnership represents something more—a “deep collaboration between our teams,” says Lange. “We are working with DeepMind to enable them to have [a virtual worlds] environment.”
“It opens the door for dealing with realistic and complex problems,” he adds. Using Unity’s virtual-world platform will allow DeepMind engineers to run massive, 3-D simulations that incorporate extra data points from physics, like time and space, as well as preprogrammed data.
Unity's vice president of AI, Danny LangeImage via dannylange.ai
This means “you can train a robot to navigate a household and solve problems in that household, but virtually,” says Lange. “You can train a self-driving car. You can do all those virtually.”
DeepMind did not wish to comment on how its partnership with Unity could lead to more real-world problem solving or the potential for commercializing its research outside the world of Alphabet, the parent company of Google.
Google’s DeepMind subsidiary is one of the most advanced AI companies on earth, having published more than 200 peer-reviewed papers and defeated the world’s top Go player with its self-taught AlphaGo program. But it’s also been losing money hand over fist.
DeepMind, which Google bought for a reported $600 million four years ago, lost $368 million in 2017 and $164 million the year before. Though there have been reported tensions between Google and DeepMind over the issue, DeepMind is widely seen as Google’s big bet on a future where deep-learning algorithms help run the services we use everyday.
DeepMind, cofounded by former chess prodigy Demis Hassabis (pictured above) and his childhood friend Mustafa Suleyman, has its grounding in games and has a history of using gaming environments like the Atari platform and its own DeepMind Lab to train algorithms.
The company regularly states that its long-term mission is to advance AI research and solve the long-standing puzzle of “artificial general intelligence,” where computers can learn and think like humans can.
Some of DeepMind’s research has been applied across Google, including text-to-speech technology that was incorporated into Google Home and an AI-powered recommendation system that helps cool Google’s data centers.
Yet even with its noble mission, DeepMind is not a nonprofit. It is a fully incorporated company and at some point will need to start making money. If a partnership with Unity takes it a step closer to real-world applications of its AI research, that might help DeepMind as a business too.
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