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Welsh robot Adam takes A.I. to the next level.

Byline: Steffan Rhys

IT was hailed as taking artificial intelligence to a new level.

Now, the creation by Welsh scientists of the first robot in the world to make an independent scientific discovery has been named the fourth most significant discovery of 2009 by one of the world's most influential magazines.

Adam, a computer that fully automates the scientific process, discovered in April how a baker's yeast converts food like sugar into the amino acid lysine to produce the protein in bread.

The robot then devised experiments to test its predictions, ran experiments using laboratory robotics and interpreted the results, before repeating the cycle.

Adam was designed by Professor Ross King and colleagues at the Department of Computer Science at Aberystwyth University to carry out each stage of the scientific process automatically without the need for further human intervention.

Its success was placed ahead of the discovery of water on the moon and the progress made this year at the large hadron collider in Switzerland - project managed by Welsh scientist Dr Lyn Evans - in Time magazine's 10 most significant scientific discoveries of 2009. However, its importance was ranked behind the discoveries of our oldest human ancestor and a potential cure for colour blindness.

Time said of Adam: "By any standard, it was an elementary discovery - the identification of the role of about a dozen genes in a yeast cell. But what made this finding a major breakthrough was the unlikely form of the scientist: a robot.

"In April, Adam became the first robotic system to make a novel scientific discovery with virtually no human intellectual input. Robots have long been used in experiments - their vast computational power assisted in the sequencing of the human genome, for example - but Adam was the first to complete the cycle from hypothesis to experiment to reformulated hypothesis without human intervention."

Adam's discovery was published in the journal Science in April. The scientists chose yeast because its genes provide a simple model of how human cells work. Many of the reactions within yeast are replicated within human cells.

Adam is still a prototype, but Prof King's team believe their next robot, Eve, holds great promise for scientists searching for new drugs to combat diseases such as malaria.

Future models could also work on developing drugs to combat some of the world's biggest killers like cancer and heart disease.

Computers already play a fundamental role in the scientific process, which is becoming increasingly automated, and their influence is clear in research into drug design and DNA sequencing.

This has led to more scientific data, increasingly available on the web, which in turn requires an increased use of computers to analyse these data Prof King, who led a team of 11 researchers, said: "Because biological organisms are so complex it is important that the details of biological experiments are recorded in great detail. This is difficult and irksome for human scientists, but easy for robot scientists.

"Human scientists are often reluctant to write down everything - you'll find some information in their lab books, but it's not comprehensive.

"Also it's not in the nice clear form of logic the robot uses.

"The robot uses logic to express its knowledge whereas people use English or Welsh, which is ambiguous.

"Ultimately, we hope to have teams of human and robot scientists working together in laboratories.

"If science was more efficient it would be better placed to help solve society's problems. One way to make science more efficient is through automation.

Automation was the driving force behind much of the 19th and 20th century progress, and this is likely to continue."

The university's work was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales among others.


BREAKTHROUGH: Professor Ross King, left. His robot, Adam 'was the first to complete the cycle from hypothesis to experiment to reformulated hypothesis without human intervention', said Time magazine
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 7, 2010
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