Robotics and automation is transforming the medical profession. We now have doctors using Google Glass during operations, robot surgery in oncology, robot pharmacists preparing 1 million medications per month in a hospital. In pharmaceutical companies artificial intelligent, or machine learning machines, are helping to create drugs.
These advances are lifesaving and the robotic medical market is already said to bring in several billion dollars per year for robot manufacturers.
One aspect of robots in medicine I find fascinating, which may have a huge impact on solving society’s health problems, and has been developed by the Department of Computer Science at Aberystwyth University in Wales, 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.
By the way Adam stands for – A Discovery Machine.
Professor Ross King, who led the research, said: “Ultimately we hope to have teams of human and robot 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.
Robot scientists could make research more productive and cost-efficient. Some scientific problems are so complex they require a vast amount of research, and there are simply not enough human scientists to do it all; automation offers our best hope for solving those problems.
The robot, sorry — Adam, has discovered simple but new scientific knowledge 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 hypotheses 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.
Professor King’s team believe that their other new 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.
Skeptics say Adam and Eve are not scientists, because they require human input and occasional intervention. But together, human and robot scientists could achieve more than either one alone. Nobel Laureate, Frank Wilczek, has written that in 100 years the best physicist will be a machine.
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.