DeepMind, the UK artificial intelligence lab bought by Google in 2014, is poised to start having more of a real-world impact after it was announced as the winner of a protein folding contest in Cancun on Sunday.
For several years, the London-headquartered firm has been talking about using AI to tackle a number of major issues facing humanity, with areas such as climate change and healthcare high on the company’s agenda. But in reality, DeepMind has become famous for developing AI systems that can excel at board games like Chess and Go. It has been slow to demonstrate any real success in core scientific research areas, leading some Googlers to question the acquisition.
“This is DeepMind’s first significant milestone in demonstrating how AI can drive and accelerate new scientific discoveries that could one day benefit the world, and we look forward to many more in the years ahead,” said Demis Hassabis, DeepMind CEO and cofounder, said in a statement.
The 3D models of proteins that AlphaFold generates are far more accurate than any that have come before — making significant progress on one of the core challenges in biology,” DeepMind wrote.
Understanding protein structures is important when it comes to diagnosing and treating diseases believed to be caused by misfolded proteins, such as Alzheimer’s, which affects over 850,000 people in the UK. It also opens up new potential within drug discovery.