SPECULATION HAS started swirling about the future of Google's DeepMind division after one of its founders was put on leave until "at least" the end of 2019.
DeepMind is Google's artificial intelligence wing, based in London and already legendary for creating AlphaGo, the AI which beat the best human Go player in the world.
But with debts piling up, this couldn't be a worse time for co-founder Mustafa Suleyman to take a break. Google won't say where he's going, or why, stating only: "Mustafa's taking some time out right now after 10 hectic years,". The decision is said to be "mutual" which we suspect is code for "do as we say and tell them it was mutual".
There's some speculation that the move could be down to dealing with one of the biggest problems in AI - that of ethics. The company has already been on the wrong end of privacy laws for sharing too much medical data in some of its projects.
Although that project - Streams, designed with the Royal Free Hospital in London to intelligently monitor kidney patients - has now migrated to Google Health, it has left DeepMind under scrutiny and is having to work twice as hard to instil confidence in its other projects involving the great global public's holiest of holies.
Google parted with $400m to buy the burgeoning AI lab in 2014, heralding the beginnings of the company's pivot towards an AI-first strategy.
Suleyman has admitted that part of DeepMind's role is always going to involve discovering ethical conundrums, and finding paths through them, but the Streams problem seems to have spooked a lot of potential partners and investors.
Suleyman's team has been all about business development - essentially finding ways to make money out of its work. It'll happen eventually - the whole world is looking to AI. The question is whether it'll happen before Google loses patience and goes another way. µ
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