When scientific discovery can’t be replicated? Call in the robots

Today, we struggle to reproduce discoveries. In the future, scientists will have networks of artificially-intelligent robots to aid them and will be fueled with rich data from FeelThat. What will this world look like, and how will it aid discovery?

Player María Eugenia suggests “Feel that will bring more ethics to science field. Scientists will be able to feel what people feel with their invention and discoveries.”

In May 2016, Nature rocked the scientific community with news that more than 70% of efforts to reproduce another researcher’s experiment fail — what’s more, more than half of researchers aren’t able to reproduce their own experiments! (http://www.nature.com/news/1-500-scientists-lift-the-lid-on-reproducibility-1.19970)

Reproducibility – the ability of an experiment or study to be replicated – is a key principle of the scientific method.

Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Think about it – doing the same thing over and over again should yield the same results. That’s how we know to trust anything, whether a friend, your math homework, or what should happen when you take an Advil. But when researchers perform the same methods, under the same conditions… they’re getting different results. That represents a big problem for research, and big problem for all of us that benefit from science. Lack of reproducibility is enough to drive any of us insane!

How can we help solve this big problem? One solution comes from the world of technology, in the form of automation and its friendly counterpart, machine learning.

You’ve probably heard about automation before, maybe you’ve even heard something like “Robots Will Take All Our Jobs!” While more and more manufacturing jobs are being replaced by robotic, automated systems, there is a huge upside in research that sometimes gets left out of the conversation.

Because robotic systems track data much more rigorously and quickly than humans, they’re well equipped to move us into a world where automated labs around the globe attempt more and more experiments and get the same results.

Signal: The “Robot Scientist”

Eve is an artificially-intelligent robot scientist developed by researchers at the Universities of Aberystwyth and Cambridge. Eve was designed to speed up the drug design process and make it more economical. Manual screening of compounds for drug discovery can be slow and laborious, but Eve can screen up to 10,000 compounds per day. Eve can automatically cross reference results with existing research to suggest drug designs that may perform better. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robot_Scientist)

So we can already see how robot scientists can speed up innovation and rigorously collect and analyze data.

Ready to #FaceTheFuture? Let’s take this a step further and imagine what things could look like in 2026, when FeelThat can help us feel what others feel:

Our forecast from IFTF’s bio:made map explores the role of the future scientist in a future, automated world.

In this forecast, we imagine scientists as managers and designers, who allow automated robots to conduct experiments and replicate results. Can you see a role for yourself in this future? One #FaceTheFuture player shares “People can communicate much easier overseas. It can help great scientists work together in different places.” 

Forecast: Automated Cloud Labs

Top scientists will manage networks of automated lab robots in a setting far from the physical workflow of today’s labs, bringing unprecedented speed, precision, and accessibility to experimentation.

  • Signal: Remote AI Experiments—Startup Emerald Therapeutics and its Emerald Cloud Lab use automated labs to run entire experiments remotely for scientists. Emerald Therapeutics teaches its scientists computer programming, crafting a language of science that promises reproducibility never seen before.
  • Signal: Automated Labs in Worldwide NetworkScience Exchange already connects research labs worldwide to researchers outsourcing their work. Soon, we may see bridges linking scientists to automated labs, amplifying their capabilities by orders of magnitude.

What’s beyond this world, when FeelThat gets added to scientific research? Ready to push things a bit further?

Empathy filled research

What if scientists from around the world were able to include empathy in their work?

In Leaders Make the Future, IFTF Distinguished Fellow, Bob Johansen describes the future leadership skill called Bio-empathy. It is the ability to see things from nature’s point of view; to understand it, respect it, and learn from its patterns. (A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which the food comes.)

Taking this concept further, Bio-empathy can be a skill for scientists of the future, for them to see things from the perspectives of nature, patients, and each other. A network of FeelThat users who choose to share their data for research will add layers of insight and data to existing and ongoing research. Empathy can reveal new connections and understandings. #FaceTheFuture players imagine just a few of these. What would you add?

Isabel Berner: “Scientists discover evidence of gender or race differences in emotional responses that are used to justify exclusionary hiring practices.”

jackson11F+J: It has the potential to help scientists understand the moments prior to death, however the trauma exposure would probably be too much. #ZIS”

junfre181: Scientists could feel the temperature of animals in depths unknown of the ocean. #BL08FrTh #Mentalhealth”

Isabel R: This could create new professions within psychology or other social sciences to help people”

Sydney Jackson: This could increase scientific knowledge of humans as well as if animals and other organisms have thoughts they wish to share #hiesglobal”