Adam and Eve, the first robot scientists

honda_fcx_clarityBy force of logical deduction, a program can construct a hypothesis based on results? Can he infer physical laws from observations? Going further, he could conduct an experiment? This subject is no longer a debate of philosophy or science fiction. To these three questions, the answer is yes. Moreover, these scholars robots already exist …

The same week, two teams publish their results on the same topic: to make a robotic system the work of a scientist. At the University of Aberystwyth, Wales (United Kingdom), the project, dubbed Robot Scientist, has existed for several years. There, we just put the finishing touches to Adam – whose name stands for A Discovery Machine – a specialist in genetics that it was working on the genome of baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) . Ross King and his colleagues report the surprising findings in the journal Science.

Adam is primarily a software. The project team Robot Scientist has developed a special language, capable of handling graphs representing the known chemical reactions between molecules. The software is particularly able to trace the structure of a gene encoding a particular protein (eg enzyme).

But Adam is not just software. It is also a robot in the sense that it can manipulate sources of reagents, Petri dishes, freezer, incubator and a few other utensils of a biochemistry laboratory. His first mission was to identify genes coding for thirteen enzymes, called orphan, that is to say that it ignores the corresponding gene. Adam had at his disposal cultures of various yeast mutants, characterized by the inactivation of certain genes.

A colleague efficient

Following the logic of his work, beginning this researcher has developed a series of assumptions that could be tested by analyzing the genome of yeast in its culture. Finally, this zealous lab that can perform a thousand experiments a day, has issued twenty cases, twelve of which were verified experimentally by researchers of flesh and bone.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Michael Schmidt and Hod Lipson of Cornell Computational Synthesis Lab have developed an algorithm to infer the physical laws of data from experiments. To demonstrate its possibilities, the two researchers just published in the same journal Science deductions made by their algorithm from multiple systems oscillating pendulum simple pendulum double (the second attached to the end of the first).

As for the British team, it does not stop at Adam. Logically named Eve, the second robot scientist project will focus on the work of finding new medicines.

For laboratory work that requires thousands of experiments and deductions on a lot of data, we understand the interest of such assistants, can greatly facilitate the task of a team of researchers. Such automated laboratories could also play a role in the analysis of samples to the surface of another planet.

It is still far from a robotic system capable of conducting a full search and publish a result, short of completely replacing a scientist … (For information, this article was written by realistic digital, that is to say, with real fingers guided by a brain with human assistance alone software for word processing.)