LONDON—Senior managers at Google artificial-intelligence unit DeepMind have been negotiating for years with the parent company for more autonomy, seeking an independent legal structure for the sensitive research they do.
DeepMind told staff late last month that Google called off those talks, according to people familiar with the matter. The end of the long-running negotiations, which hasn’t previously been reported, is the latest example of how Google and other tech giants are trying to strengthen their control over the study and advancement of artificial intelligence. Earlier this month, Google unveiled plans to double the size of its team studying the ethics of artificial intelligence and to consolidate that research.
Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai has called the technology key to the company’s future, and parent Alphabet Inc. has invested billions of dollars in AI. The technology, which handles tasks once the exclusive domain of humans, making life more efficient at home and work, has raised complex questions about the growing influence of computer algorithms in a wide range of public and private life.
Alphabet’s approach to AI is closely watched because the conglomerate is seen as an industry leader in sponsoring research and developing new applications for the technology. The nascent field has proved to be a challenge for Alphabet management at times as the company has dealt with controversies involving top researchers and executives. The technology also has attracted the attention of governments, such as the European Union, which has promised to regulate it.
Founded in 2010 and bought by Google in 2014, DeepMind specializes in building advanced AI systems to mimic the way human brains work, an approach known as deep learning. Its long-term goal is to build an advanced level of AI that can perform a range of cognitive tasks as well as any human. “Guided by safety and ethics, this invention could help society find answers to some of the world’s most pressing and fundamental scientific challenges,” DeepMind says on its website.