Robot scientist becomes first machine to discover new scientific knowledge

Apr 02, 2009

Scientists have created a Robot Scientist which the researchers believe is the first machine to have independently discovered new scientific knowledge. The robot, called Adam, is a computer system that fully automates the scientific process. The work will be published tomorrow (03 April 2009) in the journal Science.

Prof Ross King, who led the research at Aberystwyth University, said: "Ultimately we hope to have teams of human and scientists working together in laboratories".

The scientists at Aberystwyth University and the University of Cambridge designed Adam to carry out each stage of the scientific process automatically without the need for further human intervention. The robot has discovered simple but new about the genomics of the baker's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, an organism that scientists use to model more complex life systems. The researchers have used separate manual experiments to confirm that Adam's were both novel and correct.

"Because biological organisms are so complex it is important that the details of biological experiments are recorded in great detail. This is difficult and irksome for human scientists, but easy for Robot Scientists."

Using artificial intelligence, Adam hypothesised that certain genes in baker's yeast code for specific enzymes which catalyse biochemical reactions in yeast. The robot then devised experiments to test these predictions, ran the experiments using laboratory robotics, interpreted the results and repeated the cycle.

Adam is a still a prototype, but Prof King's team believe that their next robot, Eve, holds great promise for scientists searching for new drugs to combat diseases such as malaria and schistosomiasis, an infection caused by a type of parasitic worm in the tropics.

Prof King continued: "If science was more efficient it would be better placed to help solve society's problems. One way to make science more efficient is through automation. Automation was the driving force behind much of the 19th and 20th century progress, and this is likely to continue."

Prof Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: "Computers play a fundamental role in the scientific process, which is becoming increasingly automated, for instance in drug design and DNA sequencing. This has led to more scientific data, increasingly available on the web, which in turn requires an increased use of computers to analyse these data. Robot scientists could provide a useful tool for managing such data and knowledge, making scientific procedures easier and more efficient. This kind of learning will become even more important as we move further towards integrative and predictive biology in the era of Web 2.0 and the Semantic Web."

Source: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

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User comments : 18

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vlam67
4 / 5 (7) Apr 02, 2009
Splendid! Next, make the robots untamperable, then we can do away with peer reviews, conflicted interests, suppressions of findings, denigrating and back-stabbings conflicts between scientists sponsored by different factions!
weewilly
3.3 / 5 (3) Apr 02, 2009
It does indeed pose some inherited solutions into scientific research now that Adam has been created. Who really does get the credit for bringing this self automated science researcher to life? Also, at what level of name or title do we attribute to it? Perhaps, something like Doctor Adam. Or is it still a student at the High School level and has a lot more learning to do yet? I can't wait to hear about what its children will achieve. Great science by greater beings? Not laughable since it has already been proven to work and will only get smarter in time. Scenario: Attending Dr. Adam Robots with tools and real hardware will fix you up in no time. What would the bills be like that he would send to you? Interesting sidelines to a great success so far. Congratulations.
NeilFarbstein
3 / 5 (5) Apr 02, 2009
Make sure they dont create recombinant viruses by accident!
jonnyboy
2.7 / 5 (6) Apr 02, 2009
Finally, the moment I have waited for my whole life, the birth of HAL!!!!!!!!!!!!
twasnow
3.5 / 5 (8) Apr 02, 2009
This has got to be one of the most ridiculous things I have ever read. The robot didn't discover anything more than the syringe used to mix the samples. are we going to start giving credit to our GPS's for deciding where we want to go?



GIVE ME A BREAK, I am am heavily in to robotics, and love a new technology when it's designed but the designer of this silly thing needs to stop jerking him self off and admit that what is essentially a modified pick and place robot is not special in this decade.
jeffsmathers
not rated yet Apr 03, 2009
I hope they use this to independently verify this Global Warming hypothesis. Apply the scientific method and get rid of the politics..... And be sure to tell the computer that its carbon footprint is irrelevent.
DonR
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 03, 2009
Advancements in robotics are awesome but please, for the sake of all that is good and proper, can we find some original names to call them?!

Adam and Eve? Try harder.
langbaba
not rated yet Apr 03, 2009
I read an article a while ago that said we might be getting dumber as our tools do more and more for us (Google, Adam ...).
Would we in the future then still need scientists or will we rely on computers for everything?
Eventually we would believe whatever our tools tell us. In the beginning we will check all new findings and make sure they are correct. But when we get used to the idea that the machines are always correct ...
El_Machinae
not rated yet Apr 03, 2009
The commentary in Science (where the original papers are published) indicates that this is a real breakthrough in AI design. If people are in the computer sciences, or programming sciences, I think these articles should be purchased and read.

Technology and science are supposed to leapfrog off of each other, and the more intelligent professionals who read breakthrough ideas, the quicker they can be built upon.
Ashy
4 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2009
What will we do if this robot say something impossible for human's mind? Or if he suddenly wants to reproduce itself as better creature of the world?
QubitTamer
4 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2009
Skynet is born!
DaveD
not rated yet Apr 03, 2009
Add this software to Aiko and hello Boomer...
barkster
5 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2009
Advancements in robotics are awesome but please, for the sake of all that is good and proper, can we find some original names to call them?!

Adam and Eve? Try harder.
I think the next one should be called "Algore"
I hope they use this to independently verify this Global Warming hypothesis. Apply the scientific method and get rid of the politics..... And be sure to tell the computer that its carbon footprint is irrelevent.
ok... maybe not.
aroven
not rated yet Apr 05, 2009
I call bull... it developed a hypothesis and then tested it? How did it develop the hypothesis? this doesn't ring true.
Koen
3 / 5 (2) Apr 06, 2009
Making a scientific discovery also means one has to understand that some new found information is scientific, in the widest sense. Is this "robot" conscious of the total context of the 'scientific discovery'?
I assume it was prof. King who perceived that 'something scientific' was discovered, instead of the machine. The machine was only an instrument to the Professor, like so many other machines. This is not yet HAL.

My best shot:
"Only a machine with human hardware can have human consciousness, which includes consciousness about observations being discoveries or not".
KBK
1 / 5 (1) Apr 10, 2009
What they really devised as an algorithm that does 'average-mean' type calculations based on experimental results performed by it..and some programmer/scientist decided the 'act/no act', or 'yes/no' divisors (eg, if a=b, then do or don't do x'..)or similar program values that are weighted.

This system was used to do complex route work that is tedious and difficult to manually correlate into a form for analysis by a human.

The machine completed this onerous task and came up with a value according to it's programming..and acted on it in the programmed manner.

Really, a complex bit of programming by a smart group or person..but not AI.

Not AI at all. Someone trained it to specific things when encountering specific findings..and it acted on it. Real differentiated musing is a completely different thing altogether.
KBK
1 / 5 (1) Apr 10, 2009
However, it must be realized..that on/within the physical human youth that is learning..that WE are not all that different from this programmed system, either.

Once the basics of that function have been transferred to a software model..and I don't think it is that far away..we will have something so close to us with regards to how we 'input/output' that it will be indisitnguishable to all of us (via interaction, our only method) from the response pattern of any given human being..and just as complex.

As Arthur C Clarke said (to paraphrase), "any science sufficiently advanced from our own frame of reference can and will be seen as 'magic" and for that reason, this AI too will be felt by the human edifice as being 'intelligent' and 'human like'.

This is the trend and it is going to get there-sooner or later.
Flanagan12
not rated yet Jul 04, 2009
Exciting as ADAM is I must consider a quote from Jurassic Park. I believe it was something like this "your scientists have stood on the research of some of the greatest minds, and the novelty of being able to do this clouded their judgment of whether it should be done".

Hollywierd has made the mere though of A.I. something along the lines of a Stephen King horror story, as such it (A.I) should be tempured with caution. Additional consideration should be given to what happens to the human scientist, laborers, and adminsitrators once we start automating with more robotic and A.I. systems?

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