DEEPMIND’S office is tucked away in a nondescript building next to London’s Kings Cross train station. From the outside, it doesn’t look like something that two of the world’s most powerful technology companies, Facebook and Google, would have fought to acquire. Google won, buying DeepMind for £400m ($660m) in January 2014. But why did it want to own a British artificial-intelligence (AI) company in the first place? Google was already on the cutting edge of machine learning and AI, its newly trendy cousin. What value could DeepMind provide?
That question has become a little more pressing. Before October 2015 Google’s gigantic advertising revenues had cast a comfortable shade in which ambitious, zero-revenue projects like DeepMind could shelter. Then Google conjured up a corporate superstructure called Alphabet, slotting itself in as the only profitable firm.