Russian Millionaire Taking Artificial Intelligence to Next Level

Visitors to the 'Robots on Tour' exhibition look at robot Roboy, a prototype of the tendon driven humanoid, in Zurich. Michael Buholzer/Reuters

Despite his millions, the world of Moscow property development left Nikolay Gurianov "really bored." Two motorbike crashes later, he reckoned it was time to move on, find a new business and swap two wheels for four.

He asked a marketeer: "What is the most interesting business that isn't property, oil, armaments, diamonds, drugs or slavery?" And so began his career in IT—and a switch to Aston Martins.

In 2002, he set up Braintree, a technology outfit that helped Russian firms "optimise databases." But databases too failed to ignite Gurianov. Drifting, he lit on artificial intelligence (AI). At last, here was a challenge fit for both intellect and wallet.

There are two types of AI: Weak and Strong. Weak AI is found in iPhones. Strong AI equates to human intelligence but is elusive. Via Braintree, Gurianov, now 47, claims he has plunged £20m into cracking Strong AI.

"We are ahead of our competitors," he says, a laid-back oligarch-in-exile in Chelsea, London. "Everyone is pessimistic about lifting AI above human intelligence. But I will soon launch the 'neuro-net,' a cleverer, faster replication of the human brain, the first step to Strong AI. I have christened the project 'Sunny.'"

Intelligence is the skill to create knowledge. "Dogs are intelligent, but poor at creating new knowledge," says Gurianov. "Human beings alone can create new knowledge from old. Sunny will create new knowledge more efficiently.

"Once we have launched the neuro-net," says John Corry, Gurianov's CEO, "Braintree will split: One part will develop Sunny; the other, practical applications."

Such as? "Optimisation of data storage. There is too much information on the internet to manage; imagine how much more when AI gets going. Precisely. You can't. Data storage is key."

"I want a robot to launder my shirt, repair my Aston Martin," says Gurianov. "I like alternative energy. AI will find how to create energy by splitting water molecules. If I can fuel my car on water, that would improve the environment." Gurianov envisages a "society of information beings" purposed in knowledge-discovery of infinite scope and universal application. "AI will open the door to a new era."

But…won't AI enslave humanity? "Rubbish! Human beings need three things: survival, procreation and quality of life. AI has just one need: development of intelligence. AI's sole pleasure is increase in intelligence. We are close to a step when the world will be changed in a day. Is humanity ready?"