For Google the deepmind acquisition is a step in a race to establish itself as the leader in what it believes is the next field. Deepmind owns algorithms with which machine intelligence can interact with the outside world. Its AI could learn how to play old games like pong and breakout simply by watching. It then went on to beat human opponents playing those games. Such learning algorithms are required for e.g. the next step in driverless cars and other robots: the ability to learn and behave semi autonomously. Seen from afar such purchases may appear to be nuts. I don’t share that assessment, I think Google has a long term vision and a medium term roadmap based on it. It has feelers everywhere in the IT world and knows what sort of knowledge and talent would fit the map and bring its vision closer.
Google is no ordinary company. It has a far bolder vision than Apple or Microsoft. It spans across disciplines and is longer term than what even big oil pursue. While people like Brin and Page run the company and continue to please shareholders, billions will continue to be available to be splurged on what may appear to be, and sometimes turn out to be, mad scemes. Google’s lunar xprize for example has a war chest of $40m to be spent on lunar exploration. The returns for the company seem remote. It also is involved in Peter Diamandis’ asteroid mining endeavour. But for geeks it’s the sensible thing to do. Branson, Page, Brin, Musk, Tata, Cameron (James). Without them things would be a lot duller. Perhaps also much more sensible.