UCL Campaign


AI pioneer and UCL alumnus Demis Hassabis recognised in New Year Honours

4 January 2018

UCL alumnus and supporter Demis Hassabis has been appointed a CBE for his enormous contributions to science and technology in the New Year Honours list.

Demis Hassabis at UCL Alumni LA VIP Dinner

Demis, a pioneer in the field of Artificial Intelligence, completed a PhD in cognitive neuroscience at UCL in 2009 and went on to found the machine learning AI company DeepMind in 2010 with fellow UCL alumni Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman. The company’s ground-breaking achievements include developing AlphaGo, a program that has beaten the world’s top human players of the ancient and highly complex strategy game Go.

DeepMind was acquired by Google in 2014 and has now grown to 700 staff at its headquarters in King’s Cross, London. Speaking to Prince Harry about the possibilities and implications of AI on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme in December, Demis explained why he had decided to build his company in London despite the received wisdom that it could only be done in Silicon Valley.

“I have always believed that we have top talent here,” he said. “We have world leading universities and it just requires I think the ambition and the drive to actually really try and create a deep technology company like DeepMind. And I always felt it could be done in London.”

Hear the full interview with Prince Harry here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05s372t

Demis has retained a close connection with UCL since graduating and accepted an honorary fellowship jointly with his fellow UCL DeepMind co-creators in 2015, commenting: “A lot of the things I studied and discovered during my PhD in memory and imagination at UCL served as foundational ideas for future projects.”

He has also supported the It’s All Academic Campaign, joining events to speak about the impact UCL has, including at a Los Angeles fundraising dinner in autumn 2016 hosted by the film director Chris Nolan and producer Emma Thomas, who both studied at UCL.

Congratulating Demis, UCL Vice-Provost (Development) Lori Houlihan said:

“Demis is making far-reaching contributions not only to global science but also to the UK’s education and economy. His work is pushing forward the boundaries of how we understand and harness intelligence, and his commitment to London means that pioneering work is happening here, opening up amazing opportunities for scientists and students. We’re all incredibly proud of him and the many UCL alumni now working at DeepMind. We are delighted to be starting 2018 with this terrific news.”

Other UCL alumni to be recognised include:

· Clare Marx, first woman president of the Royal College of Surgeons, who is awarded a DBE

· Cancer researcher Caroline Dive, Deputy Director of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, who is awarded a CBE

· Robin Lovell-Badge, a scientist at the Francis Crick Institute, who receives a CBE for services to genetics, stem cell biology and the public understanding of science

· Ben Goldacre, a physician and science writer, who receives an MBE for services to evidence in policy

See the full list of UCL staff and alumni to receive honours here: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0118/top-new-year-honours-for-ucl-academics-and-alumni

Demis will return to UCL on Friday 9 March for a screening of AlphaGo, a documentary chronicling the DeepMind team as they prepared the AI program to take on the human Go grandmaster. Following the screening, Demis and leading UCL academics will discuss the future of AI. 

To find out more and register for this free event, see here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/alphago-exclusive-screening-and-qa-with-demis-hassabis-tickets-41304830861