A very lucky group of Academy students were inspired today (Tuesday 27th November) by a visit from Demis Hassabis, one of the world’s most prominent business leaders and one of the world’s top 100 most influential people according to Time Magazine. Demis, Co-Founder and CEO of DeepMind, took the students on a journey through his impressive career from chess prodigy to computer scientist to neuroscientist to video game designer to artificial intelligence scientist and entrepreneur.

The event was possible thanks to a partnership between DeepMind and Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC), an educational charity that champions the playing of chess to promote key academic and social skills that children will use throughout their lives. Hassabis, a child chess prodigy and England junior chess captain, believes that games like chess provide a vital foundation for learning disciplines that can prepare children for work in the digital economy.

In a Q&A between Mr Street and Demis, students were able to ask questions on subjects ranging from his educational background to his insights on the progression of AI, what it means for the future of society, and challenges in the sector. He described how he was inspired, by an A-level maths teacher, to examine how to think and approach problems methodically, later putting this mantra to work in setting up DeepMind. Demis also explained how advances in research often came in the ‘gaps’ between subjects and applauded our Connected Curriculum and collaborate approach to learning for encouraging students to approach problems more creatively.

Demis said that “as a young chess player I learnt how to solve problems, how to make plans and devise strategies, and how to imagine and visualise possible futures. Playing the game at such a young age was an extremely formative experience and the transferable skills I honed through chess have continued to influence and inform all aspects of my life. That’s why I’m always very encouraging of children being taught chess as part of the school curriculum, and particularly proud to support the work of Chess in Schools and Communities. Demis added that “UCL Academy is only a stone’s throw from the comprehensive school I went to in Finchley and it was really rewarding to talk to local students, especially when they have such a brilliant understanding of the potential and pitfalls of AI.”

Robin Street, Co-Principal, said, “It is testament to the enthusiasm of Demis for chess that he is willing to take time out of his busy schedule to visit us at UCL Academy in support of Chess in Schools and Communities. The students will have learned a great deal from his insights into the complex world of AI and machine learning, including the applications of these innovations to different fields.” Malcolm Pein, Chief Executive of Chess in Schools and Communities, added, “Demis’ overview of his impressive career proved inspirational for UCL Academy’s cohort of A-level students and it was fascinating to listen to their ideas and concerns expressed through the questions they posed to Demis.

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