Robot scientist begins new era of discovery

3 Apr 2009

A groundbreaking achievement in the area of artificial intelligence was made recently, by a robot named Adam. Robot Adam independently made its own scientific discovery through formulating and proving hypotheses, having been programmed with all available knowledge on the subject of enzymes involved in yeast metabolism.

The word robot comes from ‘robotnik’, the Czech word for forced labour or a worker. From these humble beginnings, robots were first designed to carry out automated, tedious and manual labour – to simply carry out instructions.

As reported in Science, this recent breakthrough by computer scientist Ross King of Aberystwyth University, in collaboration with systems biologists at the University of Cambridge, marks the first steps towards artificial entities in the science lab going beyond following simple instructions to independently formulating hypotheses based on given data.

There are already robots who learn to walk and navigate, as well as adapt to injury, but robot Adam, while working with DNA in yeast cells, has come up with 20 hypotheses about the enzymes in these cells, and then went on to prove 12 of them right (as verified by human scientists!).

Some may think this development could automate science to a degree. While this is true, what Adam is really good at is carrying out thousands of repetitive, time-consuming experiments as a lab assistant.

Computer scientist King told the BBC that, in the future, robots like Adam would mean scientists would be “freed up to do more advanced experiments.”

By Marie Boran