Startup general interest

Supercomputer AIs are progressing science faster than scientists

By September 8, 2014 2 Comments

From New Scientist a week or so back (apologies for the long quote, but it’s worth it):

IN MAY last year, a supercomputer in San Jose, California, read 100,000 research papers in 2 hours. It found completely new biology hidden in the data. Called KnIT, the computer is one of a handful of systems pushing back the frontiers of knowledge without human help.

KnIT didn’t read the papers like a scientist – that would have taken a lifetime. Instead, it scanned for information on a protein called p53, and a class of enzymes that can interact with it, called kinases. Also known as “the guardian of the genome”, p53 suppresses tumours in humans. KnIT trawled the literature searching for links that imply undiscovered p53 kinases, which could provide routes to new cancer drugs.

Having analysed papers up until 2003, KnIT identified seven of the nine kinases discovered over the subsequent 10 years. More importantly, it also found what appeared to be two p53 kinases unknown to science. Initial lab tests confirmed the findings, although the team wants to repeat the experiment to be sure.

First off, it’s great that KnIT is contributing to cancer research like this. Great for everybody.

Perhaps equally interesting though, is what this indicates about the future. The key to KnIT’s success is that computers can ingest information much faster than humans, and as the body of published research grows over time that’s becoming an increasingly important advantage. KnIT operates in a niche area of cancer research, but fields of research like nano-computing, quantum-computing and even artificial inteligence itself are, I think, similar enough that we can expect to see similar developments. Then, once computers become better at designing computers than humans the rate of improvement will explode.

This unlocks a whole range of ethical and political issues, but like it or not, it’s coming. KnIT is the tip of the iceberg.