The ITT works continuously day and night without any interruption or supervision
The Intelligent Tow Tank conducts experiments and changes experimental values to seek out new and useful results, conducting 100,000 experiments a year
Scientists are always warning us that our jobs are under threat from artificial intelligence. Self-driving technology will replace van drivers . Humanoid robots could replace builders, shelf stackers, even waitresses .
Even sex workers are under threat from automation.
But the latest, and perhaps most surprising, job that’s under threat from AI is…scientists.
While the popular image of scientific research is pretty dramatic, with boffins yelling “eureka” every five minutes, the truth is it’s pretty dull. Every piece of research has to be repeated dozens if not hundreds of times to ensure that it’s reliable.
At Carnegie Mellon University, researchers are training robots to decide how to modify chemicals without the need for human intervention (Image: robotics.sciencemag.org)
That repetitive drudge work is often undertaken by research assistants. But even they need to eat and sleep occasionally.
So it’s an ideal task for a robot to take over.
The Intelligent Tow Tank is a specialised robotic assistant designed to do research in the field of fluid dynamics. Hundreds of times a day it studies the effects of moving objects through water – collecting information that might one day be used to devise faster ships, or stealthier submarines.
It does a lot more than just repeat the same experiment. It intelligently observes the results, changes the setup accordingly to seek out further information, and carries doing that until it has something worth reporting.
It never gets bored. It never gets tired. Its attention never wanders.
The ITT represents a a potential paradigm shift in experimental laboratories around the world for new research procedures (Image: robotics.sciencemag.org)
“The ITT has already conducted about 100,000 experiments, essentially completing the equivalent of all of a Ph.D. student’s experiments every 2 weeks,” say the researchers from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in their paper, published this week in Science Robotics.
The team, led by Postdoctoral Associate Dixia Fan, go on to say: “This constitutes a potential paradigm shift in conducting experimental research, where robots, computers, and humans collaborate to accelerate discovery and to search expeditiously and effectively large parametric spaces that are impracticable with the traditional approach.”
They’re pleased now. Let’s see how they feel when another robot comes along and makes them redundant.