Artificial Intelligence Beyond the Clinic

AI is reshaping medicine, but its impact on other scientific fields could be even more profound

researcher using an interactive healthcare dashboard
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With the advent of ChatGPT4, the use of artificial intelligence in medicine has absorbed the public’s attention, dominated news headlines, and sparked vigorous debates about the promise and peril of medical AI.

But the potential of AI reaches far beyond the frontlines of medicine.

AI is already changing the way scientists discover and design drugs. It is predicting how molecules interact and proteins fold with never-before-seen speed and accuracy. One day, AI may even be used routinely to safeguard the function of nuclear reactors.

These are but a few of the exciting applications of AI in the natural sciences, according to a commentary in Nature authored by Marinka Zitnik, assistant professor of biomedical informatics at Harvard Medical School. Zitnik led a team of author-researchers from 36 academic and industry labs from around the globe.

Zitnik, who is also an associate faculty member at the Kempner Institute for the Study of Natural & Artificial Intelligence at Harvard University, discussed the growing role of AI in science and discovery.

Harvard Medicine News: We’ve been deluged with news and commentaries about the use of AI in medicine, but we are not hearing as much about AI in science and discovery beyond medicine. Why is that?

Zitnik: I think it’s because the realization of the vast opportunity that AI represents for the life sciences and the natural sciences more broadly has not happened yet. The practice of science may vary across disciplines, but the scientific method that helps us explain the natural world constitutes a universal, fundamental principle across all disciplines. The scientific method has been around since the 17th century, but the techniques used to generate hypotheses, gather data, perform experiments, and collect measurements can now all be enhanced and accelerated through the thoughtful and responsible use of AI.

Read full interview in HMS News