Demis Hassabis: DeepMind - AI, Superintelligence & the Future of Humanity | Lex Fridman Podcast #299 | Summary and Q&A

July 1, 2022
Lex Fridman Podcast
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Demis Hassabis: DeepMind - AI, Superintelligence & the Future of Humanity | Lex Fridman Podcast #299


Demis Hassabis, CEO and Co-founder of DeepMind, discusses the intersection of AI, games, and the breakthrough in solving protein folding, highlighting the importance of both scientific advancements and engineering in the field of artificial intelligence.

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Key Insights

  • 🧠 Intelligence Benchmarking: The Turing Test, originally intended as a thought experiment, is being gradually replaced by a more general test that evaluates AI capabilities across various tasks to reach or exceed human-level performance. This shift reflects the need to test AI's generalizability and cover the entire cognitive space.
  • 🎮 Gaming and AI: Games have played a significant role in AI development, with gaming systems like AlphaGo and AlphaZero pioneering breakthroughs in AI algorithms. Games provide efficient benchmarks for testing AI capabilities and allow for the exploration of complex strategies and interactions.
  • 🏞️ Simulation Theory & Information Universe: While not subscribing to the simulation theory, Demis Hassabis believes that understanding the universe as an information universe, with information as the fundamental unit of reality, enables a deeper comprehension of physics and the nature of intelligence itself.
  • 🧬 Protein Folding Breakthrough: AlphaFold, an AI system developed by DeepMind, revolutionized structural biology by accurately predicting protein folding from amino acid sequences. This breakthrough has immense potential for understanding the structure and function of proteins, and implications for drug development and disease research.
  • 💡 Creativity in AI: AI systems exhibit various levels of creativity, from interpolation (averaging examples) to extrapolation (generating new ideas within known boundaries). The ability to invent entirely new games or complex systems remains a challenge, but AI's capacity for creativity improves as it advances in learning, generalization, and understanding of high-level concepts.
  • 🔬 Pursuit of Knowledge: DeepMind's journey in AI development combines scientific advancements and engineering expertise. While scientific breakthroughs, such as algorithmic innovations and theoretical frameworks, lay the foundation, engineering aspects including data, compute infrastructure, and software are crucial for turning concepts into practical solutions.
  • 🌌 The Mystery of the Human Mind: Demis Hassabis discusses the profound complexity and beauty of the human brain as a primary source of inspiration for building AI systems. Understanding the human mind through AI may uncover the secrets of consciousness, dreaming, creativity, and emotions that have perplexed humanity for ages.
  • 🔨 Balancing Science and Engineering: Throughout the history of AI, the interplay between scientific breakthroughs (ideas) and engineering advancements (implementation) has fueled progress. While early stages emphasized ideas and algorithmic innovations, engineering, hardware, data access, and computational resources have become increasingly important to push the boundaries of AI research.


the following is a conversation with demus hasabis ceo and co-founder of deepmind a company that has published and builds some of the most incredible artificial intelligence systems in the history of computing including alfred zero that learned all by itself to play the game of gold better than any human in the world and alpha fold two that solved ... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How did DeepMind utilize games as a testing ground for AI algorithms and advancements?

DeepMind utilized games as a testing ground for AI algorithms and advancements by leveraging the clear measures of performance, ability to generate large-scale data for training, and the existence of well-defined win conditions or scores. Games provided an efficient and effective platform for testing and evaluating AI capabilities, allowing for the development of groundbreaking systems like AlphaGo and AlphaZero. These systems were then applied to real-world challenges, such as protein folding, to further push the boundaries of AI capabilities.

Q: How did DeepMind approach the problem of protein folding and what were some of the key innovations in solving this challenge?

DeepMind approached the problem of protein folding by combining a multitude of algorithms (over 30 components) and innovative techniques. They incorporated hard-coded constraints based on physics and evolutionary biology to guide the folding process, while still allowing the system to learn the underlying physics from training examples. Additionally, they employed self-distillation, which involved using AlphaFold's own confident predictions as additional training examples to expand the training set and improve accuracy. By utilizing these innovations and training the system end-to-end, DeepMind successfully solved the long-standing challenge of protein folding.

Q: How did DeepMind evolve from initial game-playing AI systems like AlphaGo to more versatile and self-learning systems like AlphaZero and MuZero?

DeepMind's evolution from game-playing AI systems like AlphaGo to more versatile and self-learning systems like AlphaZero and MuZero was driven by their goal of developing general learning algorithms. AlphaGo initially relied on human games to learn from, while AlphaZero removed the need for human knowledge or expertise and achieved superhuman performance by self-play alone. MuZero extended this approach further by learning the rules of games from scratch and excelling at multiple types of games. This trajectory highlights the importance of incremental advancements, removing domain-specific knowledge, and allowing the system to learn and adapt through self-play and exploration.

Q: How did DeepMind balance the roles of science and engineering in their pursuit of solving intelligence?

DeepMind recognized the importance of both science and engineering in their pursuit of solving intelligence. In the early stages, ideas and scientific advancements propelled their progress, such as deep learning and reinforcement learning techniques. These foundational ideas fueled breakthroughs in games like AlphaGo. However, as their capabilities expanded, engineering and infrastructure played a crucial role, especially in scaling up models, utilizing large-scale data, and optimizing compute resources. The combination of scientific innovations and engineering efficiency has been instrumental in DeepMind's success in various domains, including protein folding and scientific research.


In this conversation, Demis Hassabis, CEO and Co-Founder of DeepMind, discusses artificial intelligence and its potential for intelligence and creativity. They touch on topics such as the Turing test, games and AI, the nature of consciousness, and the simulation theory. They also talk about Demis' personal journey in programming and his love for AI. They dive into the concept of protein folding and the breakthroughs made by AlphaFold 2 in solving this problem, which has been a challenge in biology for over 50 years.

Questions & Answers

Q: Am I an AI program you wrote to interview people until I get good enough to interview you?

I don't believe you are an AI program at that level yet, but who knows what the future may hold. It's a good idea not to tell you if you were an AI program to avoid altering your behavior.

Q: Do you believe in the Turing test as a measure of artificial intelligence (AI)?

The Turing test has been influential, but Turing didn't specify it rigorously. It was meant to be a thought experiment and a philosophy rather than a formal test. Today, a general test that covers AI capabilities across various tasks may be more relevant. The ability to generalize and reach human-level performance on multiple tasks could be a better benchmark for true intelligence.

Q: Could artificial intelligence eventually surpass human intelligence in language understanding and general problem-solving capabilities?

Language is a powerful tool for generalization and communication in humans. While language is not the only modality that matters, it plays a significant role. Generalization and the ability to explain what the AI system is doing will likely be demonstrated through language. However, other modalities such as visual, robotics, and body language also contribute to capabilities beyond language.

Q: Can prediction be considered fundamental to intelligence, and does it matter what the AI system is predicting?

Prediction is a fundamental aspect of intelligence. Different AI systems predict various things, such as the next word in a language model or any action in a more general agent like AlphaGo. AlphaGo is a highly capable general agent that predicts and learns potential actions. This approach can be scaled up to even more tasks, making AI systems more versatile and intelligent.

Q: Can the Turing test be considered a good measure of AI's capabilities?

The Turing test was an important thought experiment in its time, but it may not be a formal test in today's context. It focused more on mimicking human behavior rather than comprehensive intelligence. Moving towards a general test that evaluates performance on multiple tasks across the cognitive space may be more informative in assessing AI capabilities.

Q: How did Demis Hassabis fall in love with programming and AI?

Demis developed a love for programming at a young age, starting with his passion for games like chess. He bought his first chess computer at the age of eight using prize money from chess competitions. This instilled a fascination with computers as a tool for extending the mind and solving complex problems. Demis's interest in AI came from his desire to build intelligent systems that could learn and mimic the human mind's capabilities.

Q: What was Demis Hassabis's initial exposure to AI?

During his chess-playing days, Demis explored programming chess games and AI opponents. He was captivated by the concept of creating an AI opponent that could learn and adapt to the way a human played. This sparked his interest in AI and its potential to mimic human thinking processes in strategic games like chess.

Q: What made chess such a compelling game to Demis Hassabis?

Demis believes that chess's appeal lies in the creative tension between the unique movement capabilities of the bishop and the knight. Chess has evolved into a game where these two pieces balance each other's power, creating dynamic and varied gameplay. Moreover, the strategic and complex nature of the game challenges players to think creatively and plan ahead.

Q: Can AI systems effectively design games that are compelling to humans?

AI has the potential to design optimal games that are compelling to humans. By using simulation, self-play, and auto-balancing techniques, AI systems could generate and refine game rules and parameters to achieve better balance and engagement. This can significantly reduce the time and effort required for game balancing, a process that traditionally relies on human game testers.

Q: How did the breakthrough in solving protein folding, achieved by DeepMind's AlphaFold 2, impact structural biology?

Protein folding, the process by which proteins acquire their 3D structure, is crucial for understanding protein function and drug discovery. AlphaFold 2 successfully solved the protein folding problem, which had been a grand challenge in biology for over 50 years. Its algorithm predicts the 3D structure of a protein from its genetic sequence with remarkable accuracy. This breakthrough revolutionizes structural biology, providing valuable insights for drug targeting and disease research.

Q: Do you believe the human mind can be completely understood as a result of advancements in AI and modeling biological processes?

Demis believes that our understanding of the human mind has been limited by the lack of tools and methods until now. With the development of AI and the ability to simulate and model complex biological processes, we have a greater chance of unraveling the secrets of the mind. By building intelligent systems and comparing them to the human mind, we can unlock the uniqueness and true nature of consciousness, creativity, and other fundamental aspects of the mind.


Demis Hassabis's conversation touches on several thought-provoking questions in the field of artificial intelligence. The Turing test's limitations as a formal test of AI capabilities are highlighted, and the need for a more general and comprehensive test emerges. Language is seen as a powerful tool for generalization and communication in AI systems, but other modalities, such as visual and body language, are also important. Protein folding is a breakthrough achieved through DeepMind's AlphaFold 2, revolutionizing structural biology and opening doors for drug targeting and disease research. The human mind is viewed as an intricate and miraculous product of the universe, with AI offering the potential to unravel its complexities by simulating and modeling biological processes.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Demis Hassabis reflects on his journey in AI, from his early love for programming and games to the founding of DeepMind.

  • He discusses the concept of the Turing test and the importance of moving towards a more general test for AI capabilities.

  • Demis explains the significance of language in generalizability and communication, while acknowledging that AI capabilities extend beyond language to include visuals, robotics, and body language.

  • He talks about the AI systems developed by DeepMind, including AlphaGo and AlphaFold, and their impact on revolutionizing fields such as games, scientific research, and protein folding.

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