Artificial intelligence is taking over drug development

The most striking evidence that artificial intelligence can provide profound scientific breakthroughs came with the unveiling of a program called AlphaFold by Google DeepMind.

In 2016 researchers at the company had scored a big success with AlphaGo, an ai system which, having essentially taught itself the rules of Go, went on to beat the most highly rated human players of the game, sometimes by using tactics no one had ever foreseen.

This emboldened the company to build a system that would work out a far more complex set of rules: those through which the sequence of amino acids which defines a particular protein leads to the shape that sequence folds into when that protein is actually made. AlphaFold found those rules and applied them with astonishing success.

The achievement was both remarkable and useful. Remarkable because a lot of clever humans had been trying hard to create computer models of the processes which fold chains of amino acids into proteins for decades.

AlphaFold bested their best efforts almost as thoroughly as the system that inspired it trounces human Go players.

Useful because the shape of a protein is of immense practical importance: it determines what the protein does and what other molecules can do to it. All the basic processes of life depend on what specific proteins do…







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