Perturbing news from the world of robotics and automation broke today, with scientists on both sides of the Atlantic revealing that they have developed machines which can replace scientists. The prospect of a runaway self-sustaining science and technology revolution/singularity/human-obsolescence style affair now seems imminent.
First up is a new sciento-algorithm developed at Cornell Uni in the States, which appears to work much faster than normal fleshy brains. Given results from simple physics experiments - pendulums, double pendulums, falling apples - the software swiftly deduced from scratch the law of conservation of momentum, Newton's second law of motion, and kinetic-energy equations.
Apparently the Cornell brainware does require a fair bit of processing power, but it gets results fast. With 32 parallel processors it was able to produce theories which originally required a hefty slice of Sir Isaac Newton's working life to achieve "in a few minutes", according to the Cornell profs.
Meanwhile a rival British robo-boffin (roboffin?), developed at Aberystwyth and Cambridge universities and codenamed "Adam", likes to tinker with the DNA of living organisms. According to those who produced it:
Using artificial intelligence, Adam hypothesised that certain genes in baker's yeast code for specific enzymes which catalyse biochemical reactions in yeast. The robot then devised experiments to test these predictions, ran the experiments using laboratory robotics, interpreted the results and repeated the cycle.
Scientists seem bent on using machines like Adam to achieve a radical, Industrial Revolution style revving-up of scientific and technological change. Professor Ross King of Aberystwyth Uni elaborates:
"One way to make science more efficient is through automation. Automation was the driving force behind much of the 19th and 20th century progress, and this is likely to continue."
Or in other words, just as the steam-powered satanic mills of the 19th century churned out cloth at a furiously greater rate than peasants with spinning-wheels and looms could, so automated labs packed with unsleeping droid-boffins will be able to discover and invent stuff at a terrific, unprecedented rate - easily outmatching slowpoke human-staffed research.
Naturally this will produce mountains of knowledge and data, far more than weedy human brains can be expected to process and integrate. This will mean that all the roboffins will need to be hooked up to the internet and start to communicate and collaborate with each other directly.