The co-founder of DeepMind, the high-profile artificial intelligence lab owned by Google, has been placed on leave after controversy over some of the projects he led.
Mustafa Suleyman runs DeepMind’s “applied” division, which seeks practical uses for the lab’s research in health, energy and other fields. Suleyman is also a key public face for DeepMind, speaking to officials and at events about the promise of AI and the ethical guardrails needed to limit malicious use of the technology.
“Mustafa is taking time out right now after 10 hectic years,” a DeepMind spokeswoman said. She didn’t say why he was put on leave.
Suleyman did not return multiple email requests for comment. He founded DeepMind in 2010 alongside current Chief Executive Officer Demis Hassabis. Four years later, Google bought DeepMind for 400 million pounds (currently $486 million), an ambitious bet on the potential of AI that set off an expensive race in Silicon Valley for specialists in the field.
DeepMind soon began working on health-care research, eventually creating a division dedicated to the area. Suleyman, nicknamed “Moose” and whose mother was a nurse, led the development of the DeepMind Health team, building it into a 100-person unit.
But DeepMind was heavily criticized for its work in the U.K. health sector. DeepMind Health’s first product was a mobile app called Streams that was originally designed to help doctors identify patients at risk of developing acute kidney injury. In July 2017, the U.K.’s data privacy watchdog said DeepMind’s partner in the project, London’s Royal Free Hospital, illegally gave DeepMind access to 1.6 million patient records. Suleyman apologized in a statement at the time.
In late 2018, Alphabet Inc.’s Google said the team that created Streams would join a new Google division called Google Health. The DeepMind Health brand was shelved, and Suleyman was removed from the day-to-day running of the unit.
Suleyman sat on an external panel of experts Google created to review thorny ethical issues related to AI. Bloomberg News also reported that he served on a smaller group within the company to vet particular projects, formed after an uproar over a Google AI contract with the Pentagon.