I was originally not on the DeepMind side of the fence. I was part of Google Research. We recently merged with the DeepMind efforts. So, in some sense, my involvement with DeepMind is extremely recent. But there is a longer history of robotics research happening at Google DeepMind. It started from the increasing view that perception technology was becoming really, really good.
A lot of the computer vision, audio processing, and all that stuff was really turning the corner and becoming almost human level. We starting to ask ourselves, “Okay, assuming that this continues over the next few years, what are the consequences of that?” One of clear consequence was that suddenly having robotics in a real-world environment was going to be a real possibility. Being able to actually evolve and perform tasks in an everyday environment was entirely predicated on having really, really strong perception. I was initially working on general AI and computer vision. I also worked on speech recognition in the past. I saw the writing on the wall and decided to pivot toward using robotics as the next stage of our research.
My understanding is that a lot of the Everyday Robots team ended up on this team. Google’s history with robotics dates back significantly farther. It’s been 10 yeas since Alphabet made all of those acquisitions [Boston Dynamics, etc.]. It seems like a lot of people from those companies have populated Google’s existing robotics team.
There’s a significant fraction of the team that came through those acquisitions. It was before my time — I was really involved in computer vision and speech recognition, but we still have a lot of those folks. More and more, we came to the conclusion that the entire robotics problem was subsumed by the general AI problem. Really solving the intelligence part was the key enabler of any meaningful process in real-world robotics. We shifted a lot of our efforts toward solving that perception, understanding and controlling in the context of general AI was going to be the meaty problem to solve.