Leading the world in AI

26 April 2018

Google DeepMind chief scientist Dr Shane Legg will receive a Distinguished Alumni Award next month.

One of the world’s leaders in artificial intelligence will receive a Distinguished Alumni Award (DAA) from the University of Waikato next month (Tuesday 8 May).

Dr Shane Legg, co-founder of Google DeepMind, graduated from Waikato in 1996 with a Bachelor of Computing and Mathematical Sciences with honours. It was at Waikato that he first learned about machine learning, contributing some code to the Java version of machine learning software which is still in use today.

After Waikato, Shane went on to do a masters degree in theoretical computer science at Auckland, and then headed to Switzerland for postgraduate study, completing a PhD at Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence Research (IDSIA).

Moving to London, he took up a research associate position at University College’s Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit and subsequently held a number of software development positions. It was while at University College London that Shane met Demis Hassabis and Mustafa Suleyman, and in 2010 the trio founded DeepMind Technologies.

DeepMind’s technology aimed to mimic human thought processes, and it attracted some big-name investors. One of the company’s biggest breakthroughs was creating a system that could teach itself to play a range of computer games. It could see what was happening on screen, use the game controller and figure out when the score went up or down. In some cases, the program was better than a human player and that achievement put DeepMind on the radar of several of the world’s largest corporations, including Google.

In 2013 Google founder and chief executive Larry Page approached DeepMind looking to buy the company, offering better support and access to resources to further develop the company’s goals. A year later DeepMind joined Google, said to be Google’s largest European buy, and Shane is its chief scientist.

He leads DeepMind’s research, which largely focuses on developing algorithms that can learn and think for themselves.

He also leads DeepMind’s work on AI safety, which has included the development of a “big red button” to turn off machines when they start behaving in ways that humans don’t want them to.

Shane will be giving a public lecture on Tuesday 8 May at 2pm at the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, before he receives his DAA at a ceremony starting at 2.30pm.