The founders of DeepMind are about to invest in a UK healthcare startup after they sold their own artificial intelligence company to Google for a reported £400 million, the Financial Times reports.
DeepMind cofounders Demis Hassabis and Mustafa Suleyman are among a group of investors that are due to back Babylon Health with $25 million (£17 million) this afternoon — an app that allows people to consult a doctor through their mobile phone.
The round was due to close this morning but Business Insider understands that the deal is yet to be signed off. It should be finalised at some point this afternoon.
It’s unclear exactly how much Hassabis and Suleyman will invest in Babylon.
The funding round, to be led by Swedish investment group AB Kinnevik, will reportedly allow Babylon to hire engineers and scientists that can build a version of its platform that is powered by artificial intelligence. Hassabis and Suleyman are widely regarded as some of the most prominent minds in the field of artificial intelligence so they may be able to help develop the new AI-powered version of Babylon.
DeepMind is on a mission to “solve intelligence” and then use that to “solve everything else”. The company’s self-learning algorithms, or “agents,” can already outperform humans on computer games like “Space Invaders” and “Breakout” but the company has no plans to stop there. It’s now teaching its algorithms to play 3D racing games and understand other complex puzzles.
AI can change the world
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, said yesterday that AI systems can change the world and help solve “hard problems” like climate change and overpopulation.
An AI-powered version of Babylon is expected to be released within the next two months. The AI version of the app will ask the patient a series of questions about their symptoms before giving them the advice they require.
The idea for the app, currently only available in the UK and Ireland, was coined by former Goldman Sachs banker and Babylon CEO Ali Parsa.
“We are trying to figure out a way to get most of the healthcare people need straight to them on their mobile phone,” Parsa told the FT, adding that he wanted to “do with healthcare what Google did with information.”
According to the FT, the investment values the three-year-old startup at approximately $100 million (£69 million).
Over 150,000 registered users have signed up to Babylon’s subscription health service, which allows people to have a video conference with one of the 100 doctors that are employed full time by Babylon. People can, for example, talk to a therapist over Babylon if they are suffering from “January Blues.” People can also use Babylon to book appointments and order medical tests.
Parsa told the FT that his company, which charges users £4.99 a month, has no intention of completely replacing doctors with machines. However, he believes there’s a case for using technology to facilitate the screening process and referring patients to trained medical staff when necessary.
“The challenge is how do you deal with the bottleneck that answers people’s questions, check their symptoms so that they don’t go to the doctor, and if they do, they go appropriately?” he told the FT.
The startup has partnered with companies like Samsung, BT, and Citi so that their staff can get access to medical professionals with relative ease. Babylon is also reportedly in talks with the NHS.
Technology investors and Silicon Valley giants are moving in on the healthcare sector as they believe it is ripe for disruption. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, incorporated a biotech subsidiary called Calico in a bid to tackle diseases.
Hassabis and Suleyman have invested in a number of other UK technology companies after they were bought out by Google. One example is Dice, an app that allows people to find and purchase gig tickets.
Hassabis attended the same AI conference at New York University yesterday that Schmidt spoke at. Hassabis went to discuss the issue of ethics and artificial intelligence.
DeepMind’s third cofounder is Shane Long but he rarely talks in public and doesn’t seem to be as active on the investment circuit.