Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Will Artificial Intelligence Help To Crack Biology?

For example, Richard Mead, a neuroscientist at the University of Sheffield, in England, says BenevolentAI has given him two ideas for drugs for ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that he works on. Both molecules remain confidential while their utility is being assessed. One is bang in the middle of what he and his team are doing already. To him, this confirms that the artificial intelligence in question is generating good ideas. The other, though, is complicated and not obvious, but mechanistically interesting. Without the AI to prompt them, it is something his team might have ignored—and that, he admits, might in turn be a result of their bias.

For now, BenevolentAI is a small actor in the theatre of biology and artificial intelligence. But much larger firms are also involved. Watson, a computer system built by IBM, is being applied in similar ways. In particular, IBM has gone into partnership with Pfizer, an American pharma company, with the intention of accelerating drug discovery in immuno-oncology—a promising area of cancer therapy that encourages the body’s own immune system to fight tumours.

Artificial intelligence will also move into clinical care. Antonio Criminsi, who, like Dr Bishop, works at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, observes that today the process of delineating the edges of tumours in images generated by MRI machines and CT scans is done by hand. This is tedious and long-winded (it can take up to four hours). AI can reduce the time taken to minutes, or even seconds—and the results are completely consistent, unlike those arrived at by human doctors.

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