Iimagine even Russell and Burch, who helped make replacement of animals a long-term goal for biomedical research, would be surprised to see WR- 4 creating carefully-orchestrated stressful situations
among laboratory rats. WR- 4 is the controversial fourth-
generation robot rat that Professor Hiroyuki Ishii at
Japan’s Waseda University developed to help clarify the
mechanism of mental disorders in humans.
WR- 4 is a zoobot, a robot that aims to replicate an
animal’s bio-behavioural characteristics. Some of the many
zoobots are a snake that twists and slithers into crevices—
which the European Space Agency reports might go to
Provisioned with a rich database of biological knowledge and advised of a problem to solve, Ross King’s robots
can systematically create hypotheses, test and assess them and form conclusions.
To date Dr King’s robot investigators have discovered the function of genes in yeast, these in some cases
trumped the efforts of human scientists working on the same problem.
Dr King has named his scientist robots Adam and Eve, suggesting to the mind’s eye that they will resemble the
humanoid robots we’ve come to expect.
Actually physical personification stops with the monikers, but
the automatons’ analytic capabilities virtually clone the human
drive to find questions and pursue answers via the scientific
method, an impulse which is hard wired—in humans and, it would
seem, birds and other animals—during neonatal development.
Adam and Eve can think of novel ideas, Dr King reports; “they generalise from
patterns, working inductively and deductively. As we do, they use knowledge and logic
combined with experience to exercise judgment and make decisions. The technical
foundation allows scientists to confirm findings and ensure repeatability”.
Dr King explains in brief how they work.
“A Robot Scientist is a physically implemented robotic system that applies techniques from
artificial intelligence to execute cycles of automated scientific experimentation. In some ways
they are superhuman, e.g. their ability to retrieve information from databases, and ability to
accurately execute experiments. But they have very little ability compared to humans”.
Ross King thinks things won’t be too much different for Adam and Eve’s offspring. “The
“We don’t anticipate that they’ll have eureka moments or discover laws of nature”, Dr King said; “we do, though, hope for these two
“We hope our automatons will advance and enlarge upon our understanding of what science is. If we can automate science we are
closer to knowing what science is and in turn have an artefact that does the best possible science. I think it’s true that you can only be
sure you understand something if you can make it”.
Dr King’s team of human and robot scientists are currently working on new drugs to treat
neglected tropical diseases including malaria and African sleeping sickness.
Ross D. King is Professor of Machine Intelligence in the School of Computer Science at
the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom working at the Manchester Institute of
Biotechnology and Machine Learning and Optimisation (MLO) group.
Provisioned with a rich database of biological knowl-
edge and advised of a problem to solve, Ross King’s
robots can systematically create hypotheses, test and
assess them and form conclusions.
MACHINE LEARNING AND OPTIMISATION: THE ROBOT SCIENTISTS