Google's start-up turn-ons: Intelligence, pushing limits and changing the world

Google

Google

Google is on a buying spree.

Its latest purchase is a mysterious London-based start-up called DeepMind Technologies — check out their website, that’s why we're calling it mysterious — but won’t say exactly how much it paid for the artificial intelligence company. DeepMind hasn’t launched any products publicly yet, but various technology publications say it could be as much as $500 billion. 

Which raises the question, what’s the magic formula for attracting Google’s attention?

Think of it this way: Google is the popular kid in high school and there are a whole bunch of start-ups that would love a long-term relationship with the big man on campus. How do they win Google’s affections?

Be scary-smart, according to Trip Chowdhry, an analyst with Global Equities Research. Chowdhry says that doesn’t mean only hiring 'out-of-the-box' thinkers — those are a dime-a-dozen in tech — Google wants “exponential thinkers."

"It’s a person who can think 10 years, 20 years, 100 years ahead," he says, "and then bring all the view of the future into the present.”

Apparently, DeepMind has plenty of exponential thinkers. The start-up's founders include artificial intelligence experts and neuroscientist Demis Hassabis, a 37-year-old video game designer, child prodigy in chess and a “world-class games player.”

DeepMind specializes in helping computers think more like humans, which is the other thing turning Google on right now. “The idea is to change the world by computing intelligence,” says Chowdhry.

Think about Google’s driverless cars, or its purchase last year of Boston Dynamics which makes robots for the military. Google also recently bought Nest Labs for $3.2 billion, which makes smart thermostats and smoke detectors for the home.

Silicon Valley serial-entrepreneur Steve Blank says Google is branching out, just like Apple did when it decided it was more than a computer company. “I think Google realizes that its entire eggs are in one basket, and smart companies don’t do that. Google certainly has the cash to buy and innovate its way out of that.”

Trip Chowdhry says if a tech start-up is pining for Google’s attention, all it has to do is “show Google it has the smarts and vision to help create new industries. Then push innovation to the limits.”

Piece of cake, guys. 

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk.

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