DeepMind is an organisation comprised of scientists, ethicists, machine learning experts, game designers and many other roles that work in advancing cutting edge AI (artificial intelligence) advances. Functioning around the world, their global community is vast, with labs across the UK, USA, France and Canada, having started based in London. Not only do they endeavour to solve some of the most fascinating challenges in AI today, but they take pride in giving back to the AI community- by regularly teaching at universities across the globe and funding scholarships for those in underrepresented backgrounds. Some of their latest successful advances include using AI for the 3D modelling of complex proteins and creating the first computer program to defeat the world champion of the ancient Chinese board game Go.
DeepMind very recently published a new progression they have made – a program that was built on decades of prior research to predict the 3D structure of a protein based solely on its genetic sequence. Named AlphaFold, this has proved to be of great beneficial value. It tackles the problem of protein folding. Proteins are molecules essential to life – however they are large and complex and almost every function in our bodies rely on them, therefore it is integral we know as much as we can about them. What makes every protein function differently is its unique 3D structure- however our genes, encoded in our DNA, only contain information about the sequence of amino acids, not how they fold into their respective shapes. An error in the genetic recipe may result in a malformed protein; Many diseases, therefore, are fundamentally linked to proteins. However, predicting the shape of how a protein may fold was, until now, thought of as almost impossible (see Levinthal’s paradox if you wish to learn more). A protein’s form is thought to dictate its function, therefore AlphaFold has been deemed a very significant breakthrough.
It is thought a tool like AlphaFold might help rare disease researchers predict the shape of a protein rapidly and economically, unlike methods currently used which take tens of years and thousands of pounds of money, this method may eventually help contribute to efficient drug discovery. DeepMind say that their hope is that ‘AI will be useful for disease research, and ultimately improve the quality of life for millions of patients around the world.’
This tool however does not restrict its benefits to only that of health – understanding protein folding will assist in protein design. For example, biodegradable enzyme technology may advance by the advances in protein design, which could potentially manage pollutants like plastic and oil, helping break down waste in even more friendly ways to our environment. In fact, researchers have already begun engineering bacteria to secrete proteins for these purposes. From this we can see that the potential for AI is enormous, even if we still have a long way to go before organisations like DeepMind can have a quantifiable impact on managing waste, treating diseases and moving forwards in general.
Some other work DeepMind is doing revolves around breast cancer screening. Their work aims to diagnose breast cancer before symptoms start to appear, allowing for earlier treatment and a less developed disease. The AI system they have created has eliminated the previous faults of expert readers, allowing for a more accurate result from the test. It has had less false negatives and false positives than any expert in this field. It also gives a faster, simpler reading of the patient, decreasing the time needed to interpret the data.
They hope it will be used in many places around the world as it can learn from itself. The current breast cancer screening process in the UK is that every 3 years, women get scanned and the scan is checked by two experts. They might then do further investigation into the patient before possibly starting treatment. DeepMind believe that the UK could benefit by using the new AI system instead of one of the experts. This will reduce the margin of error of the screenings and save peoples’ lives.
As you can see, DeepMind are determined to show the world the power of AI, and how using it in a wide array of techniques can ultimately make the world a better place. Partnered with Google, part of DeepMind work alongside them on projects such as saving energy used to cool their numerous servers and improving Google products. DeepMind claim that AI might just be one of humanity’s greatest inventions, as this already proven intriguing aspect of cutting-edge technology still has much to be explored.