Google's DeepMind buy would add smarts to search, robots and homes

Google's artificial intelligence acquisition could affect long line of its products

With the purchase of an artificial intelligence company, Google may be moving to add extra smarts to everything from search to robots to the Internet of Things.

Google confirmed on Sunday that it has acquired DeepMind Technologies, a London-based artificial intelligence (AI) company. Various reports say the company paid $400 million for the company, though Google has not commented on the specifics of the deal.

The news comes on the heels of reports that Google signed a deal last month to buy Boston Dynamics, a well-known robotics companies. That acquisition culminated six months of a buying spree in which Google acquired seven other robotics companies.

Earlier this month, Google opened its wallet again -- this time buying Nest Technologies, a company that makes a smart-home thermostat that can be programmed from users's mobile phones. Google spent $3.2 billion in cash for that acquisition.

Nest had been getting a lot of attention -- even before Google scooped it up -- because it's expected to be a significant player in the the smart home market and the expanding realm of the Internet of Things, in which products and appliances talk to each other with the need for human intervention. The concept is expected to have products ranging from our cars to refrigerators and thermostats connected and communicating.

Google, which has long been the world's dominant search engine, now has grabbed up a company known for building artificial intelligence.

"This will improve the quality of their search service and ad analytics significantly," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. "This is strategic and will make the massive amounts of data they are mining far more useful as a tool and a weapon."

However, Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said the benefits of artificial intelligence will go far beyond Google's search business.

It also will play a major roll in the company's robotics, autonomous cars and smar- home ventures.

"My first reaction, was, 'What took Google so long?'," said Moorhead. "I was expecting an acquisition like this earlier to add to their arsenal of robots, home control, autonomous vehicles, and predictive services like Google Now. I'm sure they considered creating it themselves. Then, through trial and error, realized they couldn't do it quickly enough, and acquired DeepMind."

Artificial intelligence is technology that allows computers or robots to perform tasks, such as decision making and visual perception, that normally require human intelligence.

"Google's new AI platform will theoretically be able to do things for the consumer before the consumer knows to do something, like raise or lower the temperature, lighting, or music and controlling security," added Moorhead. "It's all about automating the home and everything that happens inside it, which is predictive."

Google has always been about having the most information, Enderle said, and this latest acquisition fits directly into that theme.

"Nest is about information acquisition. AI is about turning that massive amount of information to their benefit," he noted. "Hopefully some of the experienced minds on the AI team will add some maturity to this effort."

The downside to all of this, is that it can seem creepy to some people. And it's an issue that Google will have to address.

"The downsides to Google getting into robotics and AI is that it sounds a lot like SkyNet in the Terminator movies with self-actualized smart robots trying to eliminate the human race," said Moorhead. "And that scares people, understandably. The blowback will be that Google is getting too powerful and they will need to be more heavily regulated and watched."

This article, Google's DeepMind buy would add smarts to search, robots and homes, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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