Would you Adam and Eve it? Robot scientists – named Adam and Eve – could soon be after your research jobs.
According to a new paper in Science, an autonomous robot can conduct its own experiments and has now come up with its first results. Ross King, of Aberystwyth University, and his colleagues report that their robo-researcher ‘Adam’ has “generated functional genomics hypotheses about the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae and experimentally tested these hypotheses by using laboratory automation”.
The team set Adam to work finding genes for “orphan enzymes”. These are as-yet undiscovered genes for enzymes thought to catalyze reactions that occur in yeast. King told the Times:
Because biological organisms are so complex it is important that the details of biological experiments are recorded in great detail. This is difficult for human scientists, but easy for robot scientists. Yeast is well understood. It’s been studied for over 100 years. We knew this enzyme must be there, but we didn’t know where.
Drug discovery chemist Derek Lowe says, “My first thought was that Eve will be slightly ahead of a couple of the less competent people I’ve seen over the course of my career. And if I can say that with a straight face (and now that I think about it, I believe that I can), then there may well be a place for this sort of thing.”
But that’s not all the automated science going on in Science today.
In a second paper Michael Schmidt and Hod Lipson, of Cornell University, report on a computer program that can identify the laws of nature.
“We have demonstrated the discovery of physical laws, from scratch, directly from experimentally captured data with the use of a computational search,” they write.
Don’t worry though physicists, your jobs are safe for now, say Schmidt and Lipson: “Might this process diminish the role of future scientists? Quite the contrary: Scientists may use processes such as this to help focus on interesting phenomena more rapidly and to interpret their meaning.”
This paper is discussed in a Nature News Muse by the one and only Philip Ball, a man who no robot could ever replace.
Image: Adam plots its next move / Jen Rowland