Alphabet merges AI-focused groups DeepMind and Google Brain

Alphabet is merging an internal Google Research team called Brain with DeepMind, a move designed to bring two groups focused on artificial intelligence closer together as the battle for AI heats up.

Google acquired DeepMind in 2014 for a reported $500 million and has until now run it as an independent unit out of the UK DeepMind has been one of Alphabet’s “other bets,” performing futuristic work, such as teaching computer systems to beat top-ranked players of the Chinese board game Go.

“Combining all this talent into one focused team, backed by the computational resources of Google, will significantly accelerate our progress in AI,” Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said in a blog post Thursday.

Jeff Dean, who currently leads Google’s AI efforts, will be promoted and given the title of chief scientist at Google, reporting to Pichai. He’ll head up the “most critical and strategic” technical projects related to AI, the first of which will be a series of powerful, multimodal AI models.

The move marks Google’s latest reorganization in response to the rapid developments in AI, following OpenAI’s launch of the chatbot ChatGPT late last year. CNBC previously reported that Google reshuffled its Assistant organization to prioritize the company’s AI chatbot Bard.

“The pace of progress is now faster than ever before,” Pichai wrote. “To ensure the bold and responsible development of general AI, we’re creating a unit that will help us build more capable systems more safely and responsibly.”

DeepMind has been able to operate separately from Google’s core research, enabling it to move faster on breakthroughs such as AlphaFold, which can predict 3D models of protein structures. The two divisions, DeepMind and Google Research, have also reportedly had tensions in the past, leading DeepMind to seek more independence.

DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis will lead the development of “the most capable and responsible general AI systems,” Pichai said. That research, he added, “will help power the next generation of our products and services.”

Brain, the Google Research team merging with DeepMind, is focused on AI and machine learning. Pichai said Google Research will continue work in areas such as algorithms and theory, privacy and security, quantum computing, health, and responsible Al.

In addition to the blog post, Pichai sent a lengthier memo to staffers about the changes.

James Manyika, Google’s senior vice president of technology and society, will now oversee Google Research, along with his existing teams, Pichai said. Manyika will report to Dean and the changes will take place over the next few weeks, the memo said.

Here’s the text of the memo, which CNBC obtained:

hello everyone,

We’ve been an Al-first company since 2016 because we see Al as the most significant way to
deliver on our mission. Since then, we’ve used Al to improve many of our core products, from
Search, YouTube and Gmail to the incredible camera in Pixel phones. We’ve helped businesses
and developers harness the power of Al via Google Cloud, and we’ve shown Al’s potential to
address societal issues like health and climate change.

Along the way, we’ve been lucky to have two world-class research teams leading the entire
industry forward with foundational breakthroughs that have ushered in a new era of Al.

The pace of progress is now faster than ever before. To ensure the bold and responsible
development of general Al, we’re creating a unit that will help us build more capable systems
more safely and responsibly.

This group, called Google DeepMind, will bring together part of Google Research (the Brain
team) and DeepMind. Combining all this talent into one focused team, backed by the
computing resources of Google, will significantly accelerate our progress in Al.

As CEO of the new unit, Demis Hassabis will lead the development of our most capable and
responsible general Al systems — research that will help power the next generation of ours
products and services. Jeff Dean will take on the elevated role of Google’s Chief Scientist,
reporting to me. In that capacity he’ll serve as Chief Scientist to Google Research and Google
DeepMind. Jeff will help set the future direction of our Al research and head up our most critical
and strategic technical projects related to Al — the first of which will be a series of powerful,
multimodal Al models.

This move brings together two leading research groups in the Al field. Their collective
accomplishments in Al over the last decade span AlphaGo, Transformers, word2vec, WaveNet,
AlphaFold, sequence to sequence models, distillation, deep reinforcement learning, and
distributed systems and software frameworks like TensorFlow and JAX for expressing, training
and deploying large scale ML models.

Google DeepMind will operate as a nimble, fast-paced unit, with clear points of connection and
collaboration with Google Research and the PAs.

With this change, James Manyika will now oversee Google Research along with his existing
Tech & Society teams. Many of Research’s technological advances have core shaped products
and features across Alphabet and will continue to do so. Working closely with Jeff as Chief
Scientist, Google Research will continue its focus on fundamental and applied research across a
broad portfolio. This means cracking seemingly impossible, foundational and long-term
Challenges in computer science — including in Al and ML — that benefit people’s lives around the
world, from algorithms and theory to privacy and security to quantum computing, health,
responsible Al, and more.

We’re announcing these changes today and will take the next few weeks to get the new teams
into place.

Please join me in congratulating Demis, Jeff, and James on their new roles and their continued
collaboration. The Google Research and DeepMind teams have laid the foundation that brought
us to this inflection point.

I’m so excited for the next phase of this journey the progress we’ make against our mission,
And all the ways we’ll help people reach their potential with increasingly capable and responsible


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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo