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Celebrated AI Learned a New Trick: How To Do Chemistry

Figuring out what makes some proteins glow requires an understanding of chemistry.

Credit: eLife

Artificial intelligence has changed the way science is done by allowing researchers to analyze the massive amounts of data modern scientific instruments generate. It can find a needle in a million haystacks of information and, using deep learning, it can learn from the data itself. AI is accelerating advances in gene hunting, medicine, drug design and the creation of organic compounds.

Deep learning uses algorithms, often neural networks that are trained on large amounts of data, to extract information from new data. It is very different from traditional computing with its step-by-step instructions. Rather, it learns from data. Deep learning is far less transparent than traditional computer programming, leaving important questions – what has the system learned, what does it know?

As a chemistry professor I like to design tests that have at least one difficult question that stretches the students' knowledge to establish whether they can combine different ideas and synthesize new ideas and concepts. We have devised such a question for the poster child of AI advocates, AlphaFold, which has solved the protein-folding problem.

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