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Google's Demis Hassabis is the man tasked with turning bleeding-edge AI research into profits

Demis Hassabis is a celebrated name in artificial intelligence research. He's a chess master and a neuroscientist. On Wall Street, he's less known.

That may not be true for long. Hassabis is emerging as the face of Google's mammoth AI effort and on Tuesday will take the stage at the annual developer's conference, Google I/O, for the first time.

For an academic who's credited with some of the most important breakthroughs in AI over the past decade, Hassabis is extremely clear on his task ahead: bring the latest AI technologies to every corner of the Google universe to serve its billions of users. 

"We're like the engine room of the company," Hassabis told CNBC, speaking about his newly integrated AI unit within Google. 

Last month, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai merged Hassabis' DeepMind with Google Brain, a separate AI team, and selected Hassabis to lead the group. It's now up to Hassabis to reestablish Google as the leader in generative AI after the company was caught off-guard by the rapid emergence of OpenAI, which is backed by Microsoft.

There may be no more important task at Google, especially as new generative AI services give consumers alternative and more creatives ways to search for information online. The business question is — can a longtime researcher like Hassabis be the person to ship products that consumers love?

Geoffrey Hinton, known as the "Godfather of AI," says there's no questioning Hassabis' will to win.

"I don't think I've ever met anybody more competitive," said Hinton, who advised Google to buy DeepMind about a decade ago. "Demis is competitive at the level of people who get gold medals in the Olympics."

He formed that trait at any early age. Hassabis was a child chess prodigy who at one point was the No. 2