And so it has begun: scientists have created a robotic system that has made novel scientific discovery without any human input:
Scientists designed "Adam" to carry out the entire scientific process on its own: formulating hypotheses, designing and running experiments, analyzing data, and deciding which experiments to run next.
"It's a major advance," says David Waltz of the Center for Computational Learning Systems at Columbia University. "Science is being done here in a way that incorporates artificial intelligence. It's automating a part of the scientific process that hasn't been automated in the past."
Adam's British designers, led by Ross King at Aberystwyth University in Wales, acknowledge that the robot's discoveries have been "of a modest kind" thus far. Its proving ground as a scientist has been the genome of baker's yeast, a popular laboratory species. Baker's yeast is one of the best understood organisms, but 10 to 15 percent of its roughly 6,000 genes have unknown functions. The scientists hoped Adam could shed light on some of these mystery genes.
I, for one, welcome our new robot scientist overlords: http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/04/robotscientist.html