DeepMind was quietly working on a mobile game for the iPhone before it was acquired by Google in 2014, according to LinkedIn profiles of former staff.
The research-intensive artificial intelligence firm, which was acquired for around £400 million, has become a household name in the field of AI but relatively little is known about the company’s early days.
Details of the game are scarce but Jim McDonagh, a senior producer at DeepMind from June 2013 to August 2016, says on his LinkedIn profile that it was a free to play mobile title. He writes that it was developed but never released.
Software engineer Stuart Leneghan, a contractor for DeepMind from April 2013 to September 2013, describes it as a space simulation game on his LinkedIn profile. The game, he writes, included in-app purchases and highscore tables, as well as a friend graph and matchmaking capabilities.
DeepMind cofounder and CEO Demis Hassabis has a passion for games. He reached the rank of chess grandmaster by the time he was 13, and led programming at Bullfrog Productions on “Theme Park” — a game that challenges players to build a successful theme park — when he was 15.
It’s likely that Google didn’t see how the game would add value to its business and therefore decided to kill it off. McDonagh says on his profile that the game “transitioned over to AI research post-acquisition.”
Leneghan did not respond to a request for comment, while McDonagh said: “I can’t comment for legal reasons.”
DeepMind also declined to comment.
Today DeepMind is considered one of the leading AI companies in the world and it has a team of around 700 people, with most of those based out of Google’s headquarters in King’s Cross, London.
Prior to the Google acquisition, DeepMind raised tens of millions of dollars from tech funds operated by billionaires like CEO Elon Musk, Li Ka-shing, and Peter Thiel, as well as angel investors like Skype cofounder Jaan Tallinn.
This isn’t the first DeepMind project to be uncovered from the company’s early days.
In May 2016, it emerged that DeepMind killed off an AI-powered fashion website called KITSEE when it was acquired by Google. KITSEE used AI to recommend clothes to people that they could then go on and buy and it also featured a range of articles about fashion that were produced by a team of DeepMind writers.
DeepMind is building AI systems that can perform certain tasks significantly better than humans. It made headlines in 2016 when its AlphaGo AI agent successfully beat the world’s number one player of the ancient Chinese board game Go, despite experts in the field thinking this was still decades away.
Now it’s working on a number of other projects including an iPhone app for the NHS that alerts clinicians when their patient’s condition suddenly deteriorates. The app, known as Streams, does not feature any AI technology.
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