Thursday, April 02, 2009

Robot Scientist meets the press

I am writing this at lunchtime on Thursday but can't post 'til midnight because of the embargo (ah Clive, how well you trained me!). The Robot Scientist paper comes out on the Science website tomorrow, and in the journal soon after.

My former colleagues at Aberystwyth have been busy giving interviews and being filmed/photographed for the last couple of days. There's a science wire service I'm still subscribed to after the BSA Media Fellowship and I'm really excited, because they've just put out the first comment I've seen from someone not on the team!

I can't wait to see the coverage tomorrow. I have no idea how well the story will be treated - but I did suggest a headline for the press briefing paper: "Robot Scientist beats humans to new knowledge" so I hope that angle gets covered, rather than robots to put scientists on dole/cure cancer/kill everyone with GM yeast.

Using AI, knowledge about the domain and a lot of lab automation kit the Robot Scientist managed to discover (for itself) the previously unknown function of 12 genes in brewer's yeast. The robot starts with some knowledge about the yeast metabolism and is allowed to design experiments on yeast with genes knocked out. It uses what it learns from those experiments to design another set of experiments, then another, until it finally figures out what the gene does.

With more than 6,000 interesting genes in yeast alone, that would take humans years: the robot can run 24/7 (in theory) and run thousands of experiments in parallel. If the robot just did those experiments combinatorially, that would still take more years than we're likely to have left on this planet - so the AI for hypothesis generation and experiment planning really comes in handy!

The paper.

UPDATE: My favourite writeup is this from Clive Cookson at the FT. It's sober, well informed and distills what the work really achieved. I'm defnitely buying a copy of the pink 'un today!

One of the best writeups so far, from the land down under: Sydney Morning Herald

MSNBC also has a pretty good take on it.

Auntie Beeb has done a good job too.

And my personal favourite writeup from a blogger.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The G20 Climate Camp

After following the G20 news on Twitter most of the day I decided to stop off in the city to check out the Climate Camp.

It was a peaceful, relaxed and cheery affair. There was a heavy and visible police presence, though they were largely good humoured. One or two even consented to be hugged by some of the protesters. I'm sure I even saw one smile.

It was heartening to see charities, churches, trade unions and other random people come together for the cause of getting climate change back on the agenda.

St Ethelburger's in the City, in the middle of the climate camp, shows its support

Just outside the riot police were massing:

It seems they were just waiting for the working day to be over, and interested bystanders and lightweight participants like me to have left the area. Twitter is abuzz with news that what was an entirely peaceful and well-run camp, with tents, a compost loo, a commissary and a medical station has been overrun by the riot police in a little under a few minutes.


I should have known that violence-junkies like this never go disappointed:


I underestimated the resolve of the campers. They have refused to be provoked, and through the twin powers of peaceful resistance amd samba music they are holding firm for now. Wish them luck.