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From Science to Product Development: Navigating Collaboration, Innovation, and Responsible Deployment of AI

Written by
Ashwin Hegde, PhD, Head of AI, NobleAI
August 8, 2023
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Eric Schmidt presents an intriguing vision of artificial intelligence's potential to revolutionize scientific research and discovery in his recent blog post. Schmidt provides a compelling argument that AI tools could not only accelerate innovation but fundamentally reshape the way scientific research is done. I agree that integration of AI into the scientific process holds incredible promise to accelerate innovation, but we must approach deployment responsibly and with care to create effective human-AI collaboration.

Schmidt highlights diverse examples across scientific domains that illustrate AI's profound impact – faster and more accurate climate modeling, identifying antibiotics to combat dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria, controlling plasma in nuclear fusion reactions, and improving medical devices. I believe there is also incredible potential to accelerate development in the fields of materials informatics and design, battery design, enhanced formulation development and many more. Beyond these specific applications, Schmidt asserts that AI possesses the capacity to revolutionize every stage of the research process, encompassing literature review, hypothesis development, experimentation, testing, and analysis. To realize this vision, I believe the prudent path forward is AI-assisted science, where technology and researchers complement one another through interdisciplinary reasoning, scientific intuition and interpretable predictions. In particular, science-based AI, which integrates scientific knowledge directly into models, coupled with explainable AI techniques that render model decisions transparent, provide a compelling path to human-AI collaboration - both for open-ended discovery and targeted product development.

Schmidt underscores the role of advancements in language models, exemplified by tools like Elicit, which swiftly scan extensive article databases and produce concise summaries, expediting literature reviews. Additionally, Schmidt posits that language models' ability to understand sentence structures and natural language from a next word prediction task grants them the potential to identify hypotheses and predict discoveries across various scientific fields. Formulating hypotheses poses a more complex task, demanding intricate reasoning within the specific domain and past intuition of the field. The reasoning abilities of Large Language Models (LLMs) remain incompletely understood and represent an active area of research (example 1, example 2). Generalizing or adapting LLM techniques to enable reasoning across diverse scientific domains at this level likely requires a novel approach to training or a distinct type of dataset.

I believe that in the near term, scientists still need to guide the discovery process, while AI accelerates subsequent experimentation. For instance, in materials science, researchers could use AI to rapidly predict the properties of composite formulations. This allows rapid virtual screening to identify sustainable composite materials for products like batteries, household products, automotive parts, and consumer electronics, before conducting expensive lab tests on synthesized samples. A promising avenue of research is the Science-based AI paradigm, which entails encoding relevant scientific knowledge into machine learning models. This improves the predictive power of these models and grounds them in physical reality. These approaches particularly shine when labeled data is scarce or expensive to obtain. The encoded scientific knowledge also acts as an inductive bias, reducing the reliance on large labeled datasets. With this new experimentation paradigm, researchers will need new skills to collaborate effectively with AI systems and discern when to trust an algorithm's predictions. A crucial ingredient to facilitate this is the explainability and interpretability of the AI system.

As AI technology advances and occasionally surpasses human capabilities in certain problem domains, the notion of these algorithms functioning autonomously becomes tempting. However, these algorithms are still susceptible to producing perplexing or erroneous decisions. Rigorous testing and vigilant oversight are imperative before implementing AI tools, especially in high-stakes domains, particularly ones involving real-world experiments. The ability of researchers to comprehend decisions made by AI systems is also pivotal for building trust in the AI systems. Strategies exist to render knowledge from intricate machine learning models interpretable to humans (examples: model agnostic, neural networks, transformers). Some of these techniques have been adapted to scientific disciplines (examples: proteins, chemical compounds). 

Schmidt rightly acknowledges the dual nature of AI integration in scientific practices, citing its potential to amplify creativity while raising concerns of overreliance and the ongoing need for human expertise. The article underscores the importance of cautious implementation, emphasizing the ongoing challenges of incorporating scientific intuition into AI-powered robotics. In my view, science-based AI represents a promising step toward surmounting these hurdles. Though challenges exist in creating cross-disciplinary models, purposeful collaboration combining the strengths of researchers and machines paves an encouraging path forward.

In summary, Schmidt offers a compelling vision for how AI could accelerate scientific progress if applied prudently. Fully integrating AI into the nonlinear scientific method poses challenges. The optimal path forward entails thoughtful human-AI collaboration, tailored to complement each field’s unique needs. As AI permeates the scientific process, building researcher trust through explainable AI will become increasingly crucial. Embracing both the opportunities and limitations of this potent technology can pave the way for an AI-assisted scientific renaissance.