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Oscar Williams

News editor

DeepMind funds AI professorship at UCL

DeepMind, Google’s UK AI division, is funding a new professorship in machine learning and artificial intelligence at University College London.

The appointee will take up the role in September 2019 and spearhead AI research at the university, bolstering its reputation as a world-leader in the burgeoning field.

Demis Hassabis and Shane Legg, DeepMind’s CEO and chief scientist, met at the university’s Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit in 2009, before founding DeepMind with Mustafa Suleyman a year later.

The startup was acquired by Google for a reported £400m in 2014, but it has retained close links to UCL, funding postgraduate scholarships and through teaching and course development.

The new professor “will have full academic freedom to set his or her own research agenda”, according to UCL, allaying fears the funding could compromise the computer science department’s independence.

DeepMind’s donation will also fund two post-doctoral research associates and one PhD student. A UCL spokesperson declined to disclose the size of the donation.

“In many ways DeepMind’s story is intertwined with UCL – meeting my co-founder Shane Legg as postdocs in the Gatsby unit in 2009 was a pivotal moment, and UCL has held a special significance for us ever since,” said Hassabis. “I’m delighted that with the establishment of this new DeepMind professorship, we’re able to support further scientific breakthroughs towards the development of safe and ethical AI.”

Professor John Shawe-Taylor, head of UCL’s department of computer science, added: “We are delighted by this opportunity to further develop our relationship with DeepMind. As well as educating the next generation of AI researchers, our vision is to show how AI can empower ordinary citizens through a flourishing start-up community informed by world-leading research.”

In July, Facebook confirmed reports it was buying Bloomsbury AI, a natural language processing startup founded by two former UCL academics in 2015. The deal was reportedly worth between $23m and $30m.

Just two weeks later, the university announced it was joining forces with Cisco to launch “one of the world’s largest” artificial intelligence research centres later this year.

The centre will house between 200 to 250 masters students and researchers. AI is forecast to contribute more than £230bn to the UK economy by 2030.