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ResourcesResearch IntegrityThe cyberscientist – Science (John Bohannon | July 2017)

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

The cyberscientist – Science (John Bohannon | July 2017)

Published/Released on July 07, 2017 | Posted by Admin on September 18, 2017 / , , , ,
 


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Artificial intelligence isn’t just a tool. In some labs, it conceives and carries out experiments—and then interprets the results

When you think about jobs that might be lost to automation did you have laboratory scientists on your list? It seems you should. For those of us interested in research integrity this raises an interesting thought if machines instead of human researchers collect the data could this affect conceptions of responsibility for their research? How can you sanction a machine?

If this is the biology laboratory of the future, it doesn’t look so different from today’s. Scientists in white lab coats walk by with boxes of frozen tubes. The chemicals on the shelves—bottles of pure alcohol, bins of sugar, protein, and salts—are standard issue for growing microbes and manipulating their genes. You don’t even notice the robots until you hear them: They sound like crickets singing to each other amid the low roar of fans.

The robots work for Zymergen, a biotechnology company that moved into this former electronics factory on the eastern shore of California’s San Francisco Bay in 2014. They spend their days carrying out experiments on microbes, searching for ways to increase the production of useful chemicals. Here’s one called Echo. Nestled within a blocky jumble of equipment, a robotic arm grabs a plastic block dimpled with hundreds of tiny wells carrying liquid. A laser scans a barcode on the block’s side before Echo loads it into a tray. What happens next is too subtle for the human eye to perceive.

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