Robot Scientist Makes Autonomous Discovery

An autonomous robot scientist named Adam made its first discovery recently. It discovered 12 new functions for genes. This is the first time that a self-directed robotic system carried out each of the steps in the discovery process, effectively automating the scientific process.


(Robot Scientist 'Adam' at Aberystwyth University)

Adam was designed by scientists at Aberystwyth University and the University of Cambridge to carry on scientific exploration without human assistance.

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.

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

There are a variety of science-fictional predecessors to this idea. It's implied that SkyNet (from the Terminator movies) could advance scientific research, particularly in the area of weapons systems.

Also, Philip K. Dick's claws from his 1953 story Second Variety, could evolve themselves forward to greater complexity and functionality.

The idea of a computer system that could make independent discoveries has been around for a while. Larry Niven wrote about a Chirpsithra Supercomputer that was able to pursue research and make independent discoveries in a 1979 story The Schumann Computer. It could also demand new hardware to advance the process.

She designed new senses for herself... a mass detector, an instantaneous radio, a new kind of microscope...

"Rick, I'm suffering from sensory deprivation. I could solve the riddle of gravity in the time it's taken me to say this sentence. My mind works at speeds you can't conceive, but I'm blind and deaf and dumb. Get me senses!" she wheedled in a voice that had been a copy of my own, but was now a sexy contralto.

The Aberystwyth University researchers had better keep a tight hand on their wallets. As it happens, the next iteration of the robot scientist is named 'Eve'; better not give it a sexy, wheedling voice.

Then again, maybe they should. The obvious next step for this research is to automate the process of competing for resources in academia. My prediction: an NIH grant-writing robot.

As far as I know, the earliest mention of a computer able to generate new science is the Total Environmental and Mental Simulator from John M. Faucette's 1968 novel Crown of Infinity.

It was a period of total stress that gave them the answer: a Total Environmental and Mental Simulator. A computer that could simulate or duplicate the mental processes of any actual or artificial being, and through simulated total environmental stimuli create a situation of maximum stress upon that entity. An incredible machine, against which Master and ally were powerless. No matter how much in intelligence potential Master or ally had, the TEMS always came up with a simulated being that was superior.

From Eurekalert; thanks to an anonymous reader who directed me to this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/3/2009)

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