Artificial intelligence could accelerate research in a range of fields, Demis Hassabis, co-founder and CEO of DeepMind, says in an article which appeared in The Economist’s 2020 visions section of the print edition.
“I believe artificial intelligence (AI) could usher in a new renaissance of discovery, acting as a multiplier for human ingenuity, opening up entirely new areas of inquiry and spurring humanity to realise its full potential,” he said.
“The scientific method was perhaps the single most important development in modern history,” added the 43-year-old British neuroscientist and business entrepreneur of Cypriot descent, whose name is on the lists of Times, Forbes and not only.
The promise of AI is that it could serve as an extension of peoples’ minds and become a meta-solution, he also said.
And he explained that, in the same way that the telescope revealed the planetary dynamics that inspired new physics, insights from AI could help scientists solve some of the complex challenges facing society today—from superbugs to climate change to inequality.
“My hope is to build smarter tools that expand humans’ capacity to identify the root causes and potential solutions to core scientific problems,” he said.
“Traditional AI programmes operate according to hard-coded rules, which restrict them to working within the confines of what is already known. But a new wave of AI systems, inspired by neuroscience, are capable of learning on their own from first principles,” he added.
He also said that they can uncover patterns and structures that are difficult for humans to deduce unaided, opening up new and innovative approaches.
For example, DeepMind’s AlphaGo system mastered the ancient game of Go just by competing against itself and learning from its own mistakes, resulting in original, aesthetically beautiful moves that overturned thousands of years of received wisdom.
“Now, players of all levels study its strategies to improve their own game,” he also said.
By rapidly exploring possibilities, AI can help researchers find optimal solutions in a fraction of the time it takes to conduct experiments today.
“For instance, we and other scientists are using AI to tackle a major unsolved question in biology: how proteins form 3D structures and how this affects their functionality,” he said.
“Proteins are essential for all life, and understanding how they fold into certain shapes is critical to finding and designing treatments for a wide range of diseases,” he added.
By helping scientists predict the structure of any protein, AI could potentially let researchers gain a deeper understanding of diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and more.