Robo-Scientist

Eve, a smart robot, can perform a wide range of biological assays, screening at a moderately high throughput rate. Credit: Kevin Williams et al./J. R. Soc. Interface

Robots have been replacing blue collars in several activities, electronic components assembly is mostly robotised today, as it is the case in the car manufacturing industry. Robots are being used in performing "tricky" surgery, but they are either guided by a surgeon or they have been programmed by a surgeon. Amazing progresses and Industry 4.0 (an area we are exploring at EIT ICT Labs) is going to make massive use of smart robots that will be able to work in a cooperative way.

Well, that should be it. Actually, robots can do more, can be as creative as humans, at least as good as scientists in discovering the world and inventing new things! 

This is what researchers at the University of Manchester are demonstrating with Eve. Eve follows Adam (it makes sense, doesn't it?) a robot that the same team of scientists released in 2009, able to create new scientific knowledge.

Now Eve can mimic a scientist in the medical field to discover new drugs. And can do that in a much faster way that a scientist could ever do.

Eve can test 10,000 compounds per day, have them interacting in lab experiments and learning from the results of these experiments adapt the choices of the subsequent compounds to test. You can read the details by reading the paper published by the Royal Society. 

According to the researchers Eve is as good as a scientist in testing compounds but it is way faster, meaning that the cost is dramatically decreased. This will allow work on rare diseases that today are neglected for economical reasons.

What is amazing to me is the capability of a robot to mimic scientific reasoning, something that is clearly rigorous but also creative. That a robot can be as creative as me, and actually better since it is faster in learning is a bit upsetting, I confess.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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