Jan 16, 2024 - Science

Google DeepMind's Lila Ibrahim: AI is upending science

Illustration of a magnifying glass showing the pixelated piece of a double helix.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

AI is unlocking a "completely different understanding of what's out there" and shaking up materials science and biology, Google DeepMind Chief Operating Officer Lila Ibrahim told Axios' Alison Snyder at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Why it matters: In 2023, Google DeepMind revealed it had used an AI tool called GNoME to discover 2.2 million possible new materials.

  • The discovery of these potential new materials could offer shortcuts to new types of chips, batteries and solar panels, among other innovations.
  • The company has also helped to speed computer coding and developed AlphaFold, an AI tool that solved a decades-old biology problem: understanding and predicting the exact shape of proteins, which enable all living things to function.

What they're saying: Ibrahim said she is now "more optimistic" about AI than both a year ago, when the arrival of ChatGPT dominated the World Economic Forum annual meeting, and 2018, when she joined DeepMind.

  • In 2018, "AlphaFold was an idea that wasn't working," Ibrahim said. She added: "Now there are 200 million (known) proteins."
  • Last year saw rapid advances in AI developers collaborating with each other and government to manage the technology's risks, she said.
  • Ibrahim thinks that it will be easier to teach young AI users an ethical framework for the technology than it will be to teach older generations, who went digital through the internet and social media.

What's next: "We need to work with experts in their fields" to think about how to transform their sectors, she said.

  • Ibrahim's recipe for increasing AI trust: Reach out to those left behind by previous technical and economic advances.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to remove a reference to Ibrahim's initial attitude to AlphaFold's prospects.

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