The same AI engine that made computers even better at games like Chess and Go could also power new drug discovery.
I2016, The AI company Deepmind, a subsidiary of Alphabet, succeeded in doing what no other software development company had done before: it had developed a program, AlphaGo, that successfully defeated a world champion in the complex, ancient game of Go. Less than two years later, his AlphaZero program showed that it could play at a higher level than any other existing chess program (which had left people in the dust years before).
But these programs didn’t work through mere brute-force computation: they used sophisticated machine learning algorithms that not only outperformed previous computer game engines, but also helped generate new insights into the games of chess and Go themselves . Since those famous games, both games have seen a burst of creativity inspired by some of the new strategic insights that the algorithms provided.
“Playing games like chess has been a big part of my life since I was a kid,” says Deepmind co-founder and CEO Demis Hassibis. “It felt like a natural platform for me to develop and test our algorithmic ideas.”
Since those first gaming revolutions, Deepmind has developed a new machine learning engine called AlphaFold to solve a profound and mysterious problem in an entirely different area: there are an exponentially overwhelming number of ways for proteins to potentially fold themselves. So how do they quickly and consistently fold the same way? Solving this biological mystery would greatly benefit the development and treatment of disease and the workings of biology in general. But for decades it was assumed that the computing power needed was far in excess of what was available.
However, deepmind researcher John Jumper, using experience designing engines that can learn complicated games like chess in hours, led a team that developed AlphaFold, which was able to successfully predict the folding of proteins. This resulted in a large paper in Nature and has already helped stimulate new avenues of drug discovery. It’s also unleashed the creativity of biologists, Jumper says. “I think AlphaFold supports the creativity of biologists and lets them ask some of those ‘what if’ questions extremely quickly,” he says.
On Thursday, Hemis and Jumper won one of five 2023 Breakthrough Prizes totaling $3 million for the development of AlphaFold. The award was shared among 11 different scientists from the fields of fundamental physics, life sciences and mathematics. Additionally, the Breakthrough Prizes recognized three New Horizons $100,000 awards in Mathematics, three New Horizons $100,000 awards in Physics, and three Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers awards of $50,000. dollars awarded. The New Horizons Awards honor the work of young scientists and the Maryam Mirzakhani Award is for women working in mathematics. A total of $15,750,000 in prizes will be awarded.
This money is awarded by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, created by billionaire Yuri Milner and his wife Julia. The awards themselves were co-founded by the Milners, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife Priscilla Chan.
Breakthrough Awards in Life Sciences
In addition to Hemis and Jumper, two other prizes were awarded in Life Sciences. First, there was a $3 million award given to Clifford Brangwynne and Anthony Hyman. These two researchers discovered that cellular infrastructure, genetic regulation, and other processes sometimes occur between cells as a result of the rapid formation of liquid droplets. This discovery has helped advance our understanding of processes occurring in organisms and could hold a key to treating certain degenerative diseases.
Another group of $3 million Life Sciences Award winners were Masashi Yanagisawa and Emmanuel Mignot. These two researchers pursued independent lines of research and helped uncover one of the central causes of narcolepsy. These discoveries helped pave the way for treating the disorder. In addition, the discovered molecular pathways also led to the development of new ways to help people with insomnia get better rest.
Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics
Yale mathematician Daniel Spielman was awarded $3 million for his discoveries in computer science and mathematics. His work has helped develop better error correction in computation, and algorithms he helped discover are used in a wide variety of computer science and engineering applications. He is also currently exploring the use of mathematics to design better clinical trials for drug development. In addition, he and his collaborators successfully solved a quantum mechanical problem called the Kadison-Singer problem. It turns out that this mathematical solution has unexpected applications in pure mathematics and optimization problems that are critical to manufacturing and supply chain processes.
Breakthrough Prize In Fundamental Physics
A $3 million fundamental physics award was presented to four individuals: Charles Bennett, Gilles Brassard, Peter Shor and David Deutsch. All of these people are responsible for discovering the fundamental physics that underlie quantum computation. In recent years, interest in quantum computing has surged, with millions pouring into the field, both from investors backing startups and from big companies like Google, Microsoft and IBM hoping to gain an advantage in quantum computing to make room. The technology promises to revolutionize difficult problems like simulating chemical reactions, solving complicated logistics calculations for supply chains and shipping, and machine learning algorithms.
“I think I was rather pleased that no one will find it strange that humans win awards for quantum computing,” Deutsch said forbes when asked how it felt to receive the award. “It kind of went into the mainstream of things that people know exist. And you know, I remember a time when there were only a handful of people who knew it existed!”