How DeepMind boss Demis Hassabis used chess to get billionaire Peter Thiel to take discover of his AI lab


Demis Hassabis, CEO of DeepMind, at a 2017 event in China.

Source: Alphabet

LONDON – Demis Hassabis, co-founder and managing director of the UK artificial intelligence laboratory DeepMind, announced that he spoke about chess instead of his start-up during his first meeting with US billionaire Peter Thiel.

Hassabis told The Sunday Times that he had "literally a minute" with Thiel, who co-founded PayPal and Palantir, in his Californian villa in August 2010 after Thiel hosted an annual event called the Singularity Summit.

"I've been thinking for months about how I would use the minute I had to speak to him," said the entrepreneur. "There are hundreds of people there, but everyone and their dog are trying to throw something, so it was difficult to understand why they would notice us."

Hassabis said he read about Thiel's background and found that he played chess as a junior.

"That was my & # 39; in & # 39 ;. Instead of presenting my business idea to him, I tried to fascinate him," said Hassabis, who reached number 2 in the world for his age group at the age of 12. "In that one minute, I got the crowbar on why chess is such a great game. I asked grandmasters that question and they tried hard to come up with an answer. But as a game designer, I've thought deeply about it. Chess is exquisite . It's almost perfectly balanced. "

"And I think the secret is that the bishop and the knight are worth three points each but have so different powers," continued Hassabis. "The whole creative tension arises when you swap the bishop for the knight in certain positions. That fascinated him. He had never thought of that … We secured our meeting."

In just a few months, Thiel invested £ 1.4 million ($ 1.85 million) in DeepMind, which now employs over 1,000 people worldwide and made a major breakthrough in protein folding last week.

Thiel initially wanted DeepMind to move to Silicon Valley, but Hassabis convinced him to invest and leave DeepMind in London.

"At that time he had never invested outside of the US, maybe not even outside the West Coast," said Hassabis in a 2017 interview on the Google campus in London. "He found the power of Silicon Valley kind of mythical." You couldn't start a successful large tech company anywhere else. Finally, we convinced him that there are good reasons to be in London. "

When DeepMind was acquired by Google for approximately $ 600 million in January 2014, Thiel's venture capital firm Founders Fund owned more shares than any of DeepMind's three co-founders.

The Founders Fund, which has supported Facebook, Spotify, SpaceX, and Palantir since Thiel was founded in 2005, owned more than 25% of the company, and that stake would have been around $ 164 million had it been bought.

Other early investors in DeepMind include Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, and Jaan Tallinn, co-founder of Skype.

DeepMind and Thiel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Katherine Clark