The Robot Scientist Project

Ross D. King

(University of Wales, Aberystwyth)

We are interested in the automation of science for both philosophical and technological reasons. To this end we have built the first automated system that is capable of automatically: originating hypotheses to explain data, devising experiments to test these hypotheses, physically running these experiments using a laboratory robot, interpreting the results, and then repeat the cycle. We call such automated systems "Robot Scientists". We applied our first Robot Scientist to predicting the function of genes in a well-understood part of the metabolism of the yeast S. cerevisiae. For background knowledge, we built a logical model of metabolism in Prolog. The experiments consisted of growing mutant yeast strains with known genes knocked out on specified growth media. The results of these experiments allowed the Robot Scientist to test hypotheses it had abductively inferred from the logical model. In empirical tests, the Robot Scientist experiment selection methodology outperformed both randomly selecting experiments, and a greedy strategy of always choosing the experiment of lowest cost; it was also as good as the best humans tested at the task. To extend this proof of principle result to the discovery of novel knowledge we have: built a fully automated robot called 'Adam', formed a model of most of the known metabolism of yeast, and developed an efficient way of inferring probable hypotheses based on bioinformatics. Adam has been successful in experimentally confirming several novel hypotheses. We are currently in the process of manually checking these hypotheses.
Thursday 11th October 2007, 14:00
Robert Recorde Room
Department of Computer Science