The superhero of artificial intelligence:can this genius keep it in check?

Demis Hassabis has a modest demeanour and an unassuming countenance, but he is deadly serious when he tells me he is on a mission to “solve intelligence, and then use that to solve everything else”. Coming from almost anyone else, the statement would be laughable; from him, not so much. Hassabis is the 39-year-old former chess master and video-games designer whose artificial intelligence research start-up, DeepMind, was bought by Google in 2014 for a reported $625 million. He is the son of immigrants, attended a state comprehensive in Finchley and holds degrees from Cambridge and UCL in computer science and cognitive neuroscience. A “visionary” manager, according to those who work with him, Hassabis also reckons he has found a way to “make science research efficient” and says he is leading an “Apollo programme for the 21st century”. He’s the sort of normal-looking bloke you wouldn’t look twice at on the street, but Tim Berners-Lee once described him to me as one of the smartest human beings on the planet.