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Notes on the Acceleration: Robots in Science & Engineering - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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April 4th, 2009

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01:45 am - Notes on the Acceleration: Robots in Science & Engineering
From writing about a show with fictional robots, here's some news on real ones. Almost 2 years ago, I made a post about the wonders of evolutionary algorithms in industrial design, essentially, devices designed by computers. That field continues to grow, and now we have the beginnings of fully automated science
Adam, which actually consists of a small roomful of lab equipment, has four personal computers that act as a brain, and possesses robot arms, cameras, liquid handlers, incubators and other equipment. The team gave the robot a freezer containing a library of thousands of mutant strains of yeast with individual genes deleted. It was also equipped with a database containing information about yeast genes, enzymes, and metabolism, and a supply of hundreds of metabolites.

To discover which genes coded for which enzymes, Adam cultured a mutant yeast with a certain gene knocked out, and monitored how well the mutant grew without a particular metabolite. If the strain grew poorly without the metabolite, Adam learned something about the function of the knocked out gene. The robot could carry out more than 1000 of these experiments a day.

In all, Adam formulated and tested 20 hypotheses about genes coding for 13 enzymes. Twelve hypotheses were confirmed. For instance, Adam correctly hypothesised that three genes it identified encode an enzyme important in producing the amino acid lysine. The researchers confirmed Adam's work with their own experiments.
Both computer designed products and automated scientific research are in their infancy, but things move very rapidly when modern electronics are involved. I can see both technologies becoming more common in 5 years, very impressive & widespread in 10, and I'm not remotely willing to predict what either will be like in 20 years. For the entire 20th century, we had increasingly advanced machines enhancing our ability to perform physical tasks - enabling a few people to do the physical labor of many as well as allowing people to create and manipulate objects in ways that were previously impossible. Now, we have machines that are increasingly able to augment our mental efforts, similarly multiplying & enhancing our abilities to do mental work, like science and engineering. I have no idea what sort of world these advanced will lead to, but I find the idea exceedingly exciting and wonderful. Once again, I become certain that predicting what the world will be like in 20 years is a gloriously hopeless effort, since various technologies are staring to sync up in increasingly impressive ways.
Current Mood: impressedimpressed

(2 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:April 4th, 2009 04:50 pm (UTC)
You assumptions are on the correct trail. My husband is such a person that designs, creates, builds, and programs such machines. The problem he is having with new designs is the technology is not out there. The closest he has come to finding programable equipment for control modules actually just released to him/or the company he will be designing for their product for him to work with. The technology that allows certain controls with accurate precision for liquids, materials, and chemicals is very limited. So, even if my husband can design anything someone may need, it determines the equipment and the controls that need to match or be reprogrammed to work together, then he has to worry about the memory being too small for the programming. He has had to spend hours trying to cut short programs to make them fit in a limited capacity and has had to resort to thumb drives, to access additional information and instruction for customers, adding in USB ports. There needs to be more technology out there for the advancement to go forward. It's just not going fast enough in some areas.

I loved your article.. When the 13 specimens were being worked with and lysine was found by Adam. How many days did it take, if he could do 1,000 experiments a day?
[User Picture]
Date:April 19th, 2009 09:48 am (UTC)
Intelligence augmentation is well underway. I think it's ego that helps us still overlook it. Like if you're shoveling some dirt, you think to yourself "well, I sure worked hard shoveling some dirt," you don't think, "hmm, that would have been a hundred times more work with my hands, I'll give most of the credit to the shovel."

But I mean here I am sitting here a monkey (one of an infinite number striking keyboards for some reason?) and all I have to do is press a button: b. bbb. bbbbbbbbbbb. I don't have to think about the shape of a b. I don't have to figure out how to transmit it over wires to wherever on Earth you are. I'm just sitting here and all I have here is a button, and I'm striking it just as simply as my ancestors struck stones. Without the computers we're none of this. Sure it's only connection, communication, storage of information that we've been augmented with so far-- but those are some of the most potent ingredients of thought! We are already deeply involved with this machine.

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