Robot achieves scientific first
By Clive Cookson, Science Editor
April 2 2009
A laboratory robot called Adam has been hailed as the first machine in history to have discovered new scientific knowledge independently of its human creators.
Adam formed a hypothesis on the genetics of bakers’ yeast and carried out experiments to test its predictions, without intervention from its makers at Aberystwyth University.
The result was a series of “simple but useful” discoveries, confirmed by human scientists, about the gene coding for yeast enzymes. The research is published in the journal Science.
Professor Ross King, the chief creator of Adam, said robots would not supplant human researchers but make their work more productive and interesting.
“Ultimately we hope to have teams of human and robot scientists working together in laboratories,” he said.
Adam is the result of a five-year collaboration between computer scientists and biologists at Aberystwyth and Cambridge universities.
The researchers endowed Adam with a huge database of yeast biology, automated hardware to carry out experiments, supplies of yeast cells and lab chemicals, and powerful artificial intelligence software.
Although they did not intervene directly in Adam’s experiments, they did stand by to fix technical glitches, add chemicals and remove waste.
The team has just completed a successor robot called Eve, which is about to work with Adam on a series of experiments designed to find new drugs to treat tropical diseases such as malaria and schistosomiasis.
“Adam is a prototype,” says Prof King. “Eve is better designed and more elegant.”
In the new experiments, Adam and Eve will work together to devise and carry out tests on thousands of chemical compounds to discover antimalarial drugs.