Connect with us

Table of Contents

Alex Zhavoronkov has been messing around with artificial intelligence for more than a decade. In 2016, the programmer and physicist was using AI to rank people by looks and sort through pictures of cats.

Now he says his company, Insilico Medicine, has created the first “true AI drug” that’s advanced to a test of whether it can cure a fatal lung condition in humans.

Zhavoronkov says his drug is special because AI software not only helped decide what target inside a cell to interact with, but also what the drug’s chemical structure should be.

Popular forms of AI can draw pictures and answer questions. But there’s a growing effort to get AI to dream up cures for awful diseases, too. That may be why Jensen Huang, president of Nvidia, which sells AI chips and servers, claimed in December that “digital biology” is going to be the “next amazing revolution” for AI.

“This is going to be flat out one of the biggest ones ever,” he said. “For the very first time in human history, biology has the opportunity to be engineering, not science.”

The hope for AI is that software can point researchers toward new treatments they’d never have thought of on their own. Like a chatbot that can give an outline for a term paper, AI could speed the initial phases of discovering new treatments by coming up with proposals for what targets to hit with drugs, and what those drugs might look like.

Zhavoronkov says both approaches were used to find Insilico’s drug candidate, whose fast progress—it took 18 months for the compound to be synthesized and complete testing in animals—is a demonstration that AI can make drug discovery faster. “Of course, it’s due to AI,” he says.

Mushroom cloud

Starting about 10 years ago, biotech saw a mushroom cloud of new startups promising to use AI to speed up drug searches, including names like Recursion Pharmaceuticals and, more recently, Isomorphic Labs, a spin-out of Google’s Deep Mind division.

Puffed up by prevailing hype around AI, these companies raised around $18 billion between 2012 and 2022, according to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Insilico, which remains private, and has operations in Taiwan and China, is financed with more than $400 million from private equity firm Warburg Pincus and Facebook cofounder Eduardo Saverin, among others.

The problem they are solving, however, is an old one. A recent report estimated that the world’s top drug companies are spending $6 billion on research and development for every new drug that enters the market, partly because most candidate drugs end up flopping.And the process usually takes at least 10 years.

Whether AI can really make that drug quest more efficient is still up in the air. Another study by BCG, from 2022, determined that “AI-native” biotechs (those which say AI is central to their research) were advancing an “impressive” wave of new drug ideas. The consultants counted 160 candidate chemicals being tested in cells or animals, and another 15 in early human tests.

The large tally suggests that computer-generated drugs could become common. What BCG couldn’t determine was if AI-enabled drugs were progressing more quickly than the conventional pace, even though they wrote that “one of the greatest hopes for AI-enabled drug discovery is …an acceleration of…timelines.” So far, there’s not enough data to say, since no AI drugs have completed the journey to approval.

What is true is that some computer-generated chemicals are selling for big figures. In 2022, a company called Nimbus sold a promising chemical to a Japanese drug giant for $4 billion. It had used computational approaches to design the compound, though not strictly AI (its software models the physics of how molecules bond together). And last year, Insilico sold a drug candidate initially proposed by AI to a larger company, Exelixis, for $80 million.

“It does show people are willing to pay a lot of money,” says Zhavoronkov. “Our job is to be a factory of drugs.”

24/7 CEO

Like any startup, the elbow grease put in by its founder may have something to do with his company’s results so far. Zhavoronkov, a Latvian and Canadian citizen who is co-CEO of the company, is a self-described “24/7” workaholic with a prolific record of scientific publications and whose company incessantly bombards journalists with press releases.

He finds time to write a blog at Forbes, often commenting on human life extension, which he describes as his ultimate interest. A recent post titled “The Kardashian of Longevity” explored the media presence of Bryan Johnson, an entrepreneur whose “open quest for personal longevity” included getting blood transfusions from his son.

Read More


By: Antonio Regalado
Title: A wave of drugs dreamed up by AI is on its way
Sourced From:
Published Date: Wed, 20 Mar 2024 10:30:00 +0000

Continue Reading


Open-sourcing generative AI

Smith forwebh

The views expressed in this video are those of the speakers, and do not represent any endorsement or sponsorship.

Is the open-source approach, which has democratized access to software, ensured transparency, and improved security for decades, now poised to have a similar impact on AI? We dissect the balance between collaboration and control, legal ramifications, ethical considerations, and innovation barriers as the AI industry seeks to democratize the development of large language models.

Explore more from Booz Allen Hamilton on the future of AI

bout the speakers

Smith forwebh 1

lison Smith, Director of Generative AI, Booz Allen Hamilton

Alison Smith is a Director of Generative AI at Booz Allen Hamilton where she helps clients address their missions with innovative solutions. Leading Booz Allen’s investments in Generative AI and grounding them in real business needs, Alison employs a pragmatic approach to designing, implementing, and deploying Generative AI that blends existing tools with additional customization. She is also responsible for disseminating best practices and key solutions throughout the firm to ensure that all teams are up-to-date on the latest available tools, solutions, and approaches to common client problems.

In addition to her role at Booz Allen which balances technical solutions and business growth, Alison also enjoys staying connected to and serving her local community. From 2017-2021, Alison served on the board of a non-profit, DC Open Government Coalition (DCOGC), a group that seeks to enhance public access to government information and ensure transparent government operations; in November 2021, Alison was recognized as a Power Woman in Code by DCFemTech.

Alison has an MBA from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a BA from Middlebury College.

Read More


By: Elana Wilner
Title: Open-sourcing generative AI
Sourced From:
Published Date: Tue, 09 Apr 2024 18:35:09 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…

Continue Reading


Is robotics about to have its own ChatGPT moment?

henry evans P0005882 scaled

Silent. Rigid. Clumsy.

Henry and Jane Evans are used to awkward houseguests. For more than a decade, the couple, who live in Los Altos Hills, California, have hosted a slew of robots in their home.

In 2002, at age 40, Henry had a massive stroke, which left him with quadriplegia and an inability to speak. Since then, he’s learned how to communicate by moving his eyes over a letter board, but he is highly reliant on caregivers and his wife, Jane.

Henry got a glimmer of a different kind of life when he saw Charlie Kemp on CNN in 2010. Kemp, a robotics professor at Georgia Tech, was on TV talking about PR2, a robot developed by the company Willow Garage. PR2 was a massive two-armed machine on wheels that looked like a crude metal butler. Kemp was demonstrating how the robot worked, and talking about his research on how health-care robots could help people. He showed how the PR2 robot could hand some medicine to the television host.

“All of a sudden, Henry turns to me and says, ‘Why can’t that robot be an extension of my body?’ And I said, ‘Why not?’” Jane says.

There was a solid reason why not. While engineers have made great progress in getting robots to work in tightly controlled environments like labs and factories, the home has proved difficult to design for. Out in the real, messy world, furniture and floor plans differ wildly; children and pets can jump in a robot’s way; and clothes that need folding come in different shapes, colors, and sizes. Managing such unpredictable settings and varied conditions has been beyond the capabilities of even the most advanced robot prototypes.

That seems to finally be changing, in large part thanks to artificial intelligence. For decades, roboticists have more or less focused on controlling robots’ “bodies”—their arms, legs, levers, wheels, and the like—via purpose-­driven software. But a new generation of scientists and inventors believes that the previously missing ingredient of AI can give robots the ability to learn new skills and adapt to new environments faster than ever before. This new approach, just maybe, can finally bring robots out of the factory and into our homes.

Progress won’t happen overnight, though, as the Evanses know far too well from their many years of using various robot prototypes.

PR2 was the first robot they brought in, and it opened entirely new skills for Henry. It would hold a beard shaver and Henry would move his face against it, allowing him to shave and scratch an itch by himself for the first time in a decade. But at 450 pounds (200 kilograms) or so and $400,000, the robot was difficult to have around. “It could easily take out a wall in your house,” Jane says. “I wasn’t a big fan.”

More recently, the Evanses have been testing out a smaller robot called Stretch, which Kemp developed through his startup Hello Robot. The first iteration launched during the pandemic with a much more reasonable price tag of around $18,000.

Stretch weighs about 50 pounds. It has a small mobile base, a stick with a camera dangling off it, and an adjustable arm featuring a gripper with suction cups at the ends. It can be controlled with a console controller. Henry controls Stretch using a laptop, with a tool that that tracks his head movements to move a cursor around. He is able to move his thumb and index finger enough to click a computer mouse. Last summer, Stretch was with the couple for more than a month, and Henry says it gave him a whole new level of autonomy. “It was practical, and I could see using it every day,” he says.

a robot arm holds a brush over the head of Henry Evans which rests on a pillow
Henry Evans used the Stretch robot to brush his hair, eat, and even
play with his granddaughter.PETER ADAMS

Using his laptop, he could get the robot to brush his hair and have it hold fruit kebabs for him to snack on. It also opened up Henry’s relationship with his granddaughter Teddie. Before, they barely interacted. “She didn’t hug him at all goodbye. Nothing like

Read More


By: Melissa Heikkilä
Title: Is robotics about to have its own ChatGPT moment?
Sourced From:
Published Date: Thu, 11 Apr 2024 09:00:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…

Continue Reading


A brief, weird history of brainwashing

Liang Qichao portrait jpg

On an early spring day in 1959, Edward Hunter testified before a US Senate subcommittee investigating “the effect of Red China Communes on the United States.” It was the kind of opportunity he relished. A war correspondent who had spent considerable time in Asia, Hunter had achieved brief media stardom in 1951 after his book Brain-Washing in Red China introduced a new concept to the American public: a supposedly scientific system for changing people’s minds, even making them love things they once hated.

But Hunter wasn’t just a reporter, objectively chronicling conditions in China. As he told the assembled senators, he was also an anticommunist activist who served as a propagandist for the OSS, or Office of Strategic Services—something that was considered normal and patriotic at the time. His reporting blurred the line between fact and political mythology.

portrait of Liang Qichao
Chinese reformists like Liang Qichao used the term xinao—a play on an older word, xixin, or “washing the heart”—in an attempt to bring ideas from Western science into Chinese philosophyWIKIMEDIA COMMONS

When a senator asked about Hunter’s work for the OSS, the operative boasted that he was the first to “discover the technique of mind-attack” in mainland China, the first to use the word “brainwashing” in writing in any language, and “the first, except for the Chinese, to use the word in speech in any language.”

None of this was true. Other operatives associated with the OSS had used the word in reports before Hunter published articles about it. More important, as the University of Hong Kong legal scholar Ryan Mitchell has pointed out, the Chinese word Hunter used at the hearing—xinao (), translated as “wash brain”—has a long history going back to scientifically minded Chinese philosophers of the late 19th century, who used it to mean something more akin to enlightenment.

Yet Hunter’s sensational tales still became an important part of the disinformation and pseudoscience that fueled a “mind-control race” during the Cold War, much like the space race. Inspired by new studies on brain function, the US military and intelligence communities prepared themselves for a psychic war with the Soviet Union and China by spending millions of dollars on research into manipulating the human brain. But while the science never exactly panned out, residual beliefs fostered by this bizarre conflict continue to play a role in ideological and scientific debates to this day.

Coercive persuasion and pseudoscience

Ironically, “brainwashing” was not a widely used term among communists in China. The word xinao, Mitchell told me in an email, is actually a play on an older word, xixin, or washing the heart, which alludes to a Confucian and Buddhist ideal of self-awareness. In the late 1800s, Chinese reformists such as Liang Qichao began using xinao—replacing the character for “heart” with “brain”—in part because they were trying to modernize Chinese philosophy. “They were eager to receive and internalize as much as they could of Western science in general, and discourse about the brain as the seat of consciousness was just one aspect of that set of imported ideas,” Mitchell said.

For Liang and his circle, brainwashing wasn’t some kind of mind-wiping process. “It was a sort of notion of epistemic virtue,” Mitchell said, “or a personal duty to make oneself modern in order to behave properly in the modern world.”

Meanwhile, scientists outside China were investigating “brainwashing” in the sense we usually think of, with experiments into mind clearing and reprogramming. Some of the earliest research into the possibility began in the 1890s, when Ivan Pavlov, the Russian physiologist who had famously conditioned dogs to drool at the sound of a bell, worked on Soviet-funded projects to investigate how trauma could change animal behavior. He found that even the most well-conditioned dogs would forget their training after intensely stressful experiences such as nearly drowning, especially when those were combined with sleep deprivation and isolation. It seemed that Pavlov had hit upon a quick way to wipe animals’ memories. Scientists on both sides of the Iron Curtain subsequently wondered whether it might work on humans. And once memories were wiped, they wondered, could something else be installed their place?

Read More


By: Annalee Newitz
Title: A brief, weird history of brainwashing
Sourced From:
Published Date: Fri, 12 Apr 2024 09:00:00 +0000

Continue Reading