Google DeepMind employees are among the first Googlers in the UK to move to Google’s delayed property empire that’s slowly unfolding in King’s Cross.
The artificial intelligence (AI) unit – founded in 2011 by Demis Hassabis, Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman and acquired by Google last year for a reported £400 million – is on a mission to “solve intelligence” and it has successfully created a number of algorithms that allow machines to learn independently.
DeepMind’s exact whereabouts have been kept under wraps by its founders and the Google PR team but a source familiar with the matter informed Techworld that DeepMind has taken up residence in 7 Pancras Square – a six-storey office block opposite the plot where Google plans to build its new £1 billion UK headquarters. The same building was alluded to in thisWired article last month but other references to the new address are hard to find.
Techworld, whose office is a five minute walk from 7 Pancras Square, tried to confirm with a receptionist that it was indeed DeepMind’s office but the doors to the building were locked. Fortunately, a Google DeepMind employee with a key card was walking by at the time of our arrival. When asked if the building belonged to Google DeepMind, he replied “Yes” before asking “Who are you here to see?”
From the outside of 7 Pancras Square, there is relatively little indication that the recently-built office belongs to Google DeepMind – a Google division employing 150 people that is likely to come under increasing scrutiny as academics and billionaires continue to warn about the possible dangers of AI. There are no signs and no logos. There are however some colourful bookshelves, stylish meeting areas and large monitors that can be seen through the windows.
It’s unclear at this stage whether Google owns or leases 7 Pancras Square.
Google announced in January 2013 that it intended to build a new UK headquarters on a one million square foot plot behind King’s Cross Station but the development has been plagued by setbacks.
The HQ is expected to cost up to £1 billion and filings suggest the building will be able to accommodate up to 5,000 Google staff when it is finished.
Architecture firm AHMM was commissioned by Google to draw up designs for the new HQ and Camden Council accepted the proposals they drew up (complete with rooftop swimming pool and running track) in September 2013.
The Silicon Valley internet giant touted that the new office would be complete in 2016. However, after Techworld realised that no building work had commenced, the company pushed back to 2017 and eventually said it has no target completion date for the new HQ.
The site that Google’s HQ is due to be built on is currently being used for a theatre production of The Railway Children, which isn’t due to end until September 2015.
The latest reports from last month suggest that British designer Thomas Heatherwick has now been pulled in to work on the project. He is also helping Google with its new international headquarters in Mountain View, California.
In order to bridge the gap that has been created as a result of the UK HQ delays, Google has taken out a lease on 6 Pancras Square but this building is still unfinished.
Some have questioned whether Google is committed to the site at King’s Cross with one source suggesting the company could be waiting to see what happens in a number of EU lawsuits that Google is currently involved in. A Google spokeswoman dismissed these claims as “ridiculous”.
Google UK executive Thomas Davies told Techworld last October that the project had been delayed because Larry Page, the company’s CEO, wants to make sure the London office is “very special”.
“Given the heritage that we’ve had in the UK and Ireland, Larry actually wants to make a statement, that says, ‘You know what, this is a very special place for us and a very special building for Googlers,'” he added. “What I can say is all of the best experiences that we’ve learnt in Mountain View and Zurich about innovation – we’re having the best of that in London.”