David Silver: The unsung hero and intellectual powerhouse at Google DeepMind

Google David SilverGoogle DeepMindGoogle DeepMind research scientist David Silver.

If you’re familiar with DeepMind — the research-intensive London startup that’s about to take on the best player in the world at notoriously complex Chinese board game “Go” — then you’ve probably heard of Demis Hassabis by now. He’s the CEO and cofounder of DeepMind. You may have also heard of Mustafa Suleyman and Shane Legg, the other cofounders. One person you may not have heard of, however, is David Silver.

According to The Guardian, Silver is the main programmer on the Go team at DeepMind, which was bought by Google for £400 million in 2014.

Despite contributing to more research papers (16 now) than any other DeepMind employee, Silver has largely stayed out of the limelight. He consulted for DeepMind from its inception and joined full-time in 2013.

He’s got an impressive academic record, having achieved top marks in his computer science class at Cambridge University, which is where he met and befriended Hassabis, who reportedly taught Silver how to play board games, including Go. “Dave and I have got a long history together,” Hassabis told The Guardian in February. “We used to dream about doing this [creating powerful AIs] in our lifetimes, so our 19-year-old selves would probably have been very relieved that we got here.”

After Cambridge, Silver cofounded the video games company Elixir Studios, where he was CTO and lead programmer, winning a number of awards for technology and innovation.

Silver returned to academia in 2004 to study for a PhD on reinforcement learning in computer Go, making him an ideal recruit for DeepMind. During his PhD, he cointroduced the algorithms used in the first “master-level” Go programs. However, they could only beat humans on 9×9 boards, not the standard 16×16 boards, which allow for more moves, thereby making them harder for computers to grasp.

DeepMind has been relatively quiet about who builds the AIs that are taking on the best humans at computer games like “Space Invaders” and Go. In the last month, however, Google DeepMind has started to open up, possibly in a bid to capitalise on the growing interest in its AlphaGo algorithm, which will take on Go world champion Lee Sedol in Seoul this week.

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