Google snaps up two companies in artificial intelligence push

Spin-off firms from Oxford University bought by search giant

Google has stepped up efforts to build on its artificial intelligence interests through the acquisition of a couple of companies spun off from Oxford University.

The two firms, Dark Blue Labs and Vision Factory, specialise in machine learning and computer vision. Researchers from the companies will be added to the search engine firm's DeepMind artificial intelligence research company, which was acquired by Google back in January.

"We are thrilled to welcome these extremely talented machine learning researchers to the Google DeepMind team and are excited about the potential impact of the advances their research will bring," said Demis Hassabis, co-founder of DeepMind in a blog post.

Prof Nando de Freitas, Prof Phil Blunsom, Dr Edward Grefenstette and Dr Karl Moritz Hermann, who founded Dark Blue Labs, will help Google in efforts to enable machines to better understand what users are saying to them.

Dr Karen Simonyan, Max Jaderberg and Prof Andrew Zisserman co-founded Vision Factory with the aim of improving visual recognition systems using deep learning.

Despite working for Google Deepmind, the three professors will continue to spend part of their time holding joint appointments at Oxford University. Hassabis said this underlined the firm's commitment to supporting the development of UK academia and the growth of strong scientific research labs.

In addition, Google will also make a contribution to establish a research partnership with the Computer Science Department and the Engineering Department at Oxford University. This will include a program of student internships and a series of joint lectures and workshops to share knowledge and expertise.

Professor Mike Wooldridge, Head of the Department of Computer Science, Oxford Universty said that machine learning is a technology "whose time has come". 

"We have invested heavily in this area and we are truly excited at the prospect of what we can achieve together with Google," he said. "We are extremely proud of Phil, Nando, Ed, and Karl, and truly grateful for their efforts in securing such a fantastic donation to the department, and for paving the way for future collaboration with one of the world's leading computing companies."

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

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