Professor Ross King

”I want to transform the way science is done”

“I want to transform the way science is done, artificial intelligence (AI) holds the potential to do that” says Ross D. King, new professor of Machine Intelligence at Chalmers University of Technology.
​Professor Ross D. King, newly recruited to the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering at Chalmers, has started work building a third generation Robot Scientist called ‘Genesis’.

A Robot Scientist is a robotic system that applies techniques from artificial intelligence to execute cycles of automated scientific experimentation. The Genesis AI will coordinate the continuous execution of around 10,000 parallel cycles of hypothesis generation and testing to improve its model of how cells work.

A tool for human scientists

“Such automation will make scientific research cheaper and faster, which is needed if we are to meet such global challenges as climate change, food security, disease, etc.,” says Ross King.

He says that the goal is not to replace human scientists, but to give them a tool to achieve their goals.

“We are very pleased that we managed to recruit Dr Ross King to Chalmers. Having worked in the field for over 30 years, he is one of the most experienced machine learning researchers in Europe. This recruitment will truly strengthen our competence within this field,” says Stefan Bengtsson, President at Chalmers University of Technology.  

Drew the short straw – ended up in computer science

Ross King’s main research interests lie at interface between computer science and science. This interest started during his undergraduate studies in microbiology at the University of Aberdeen when he literally drew the short straw and had to do an unwanted mathematic project rejected by his fellow students.

To his surprise he enjoyed the computational project and it led him to study for a Master of Science degree in Computer Science. Following this he completed a PhD at The Turing Institute at the University of Strathclyde on developing machine learning methods for protein structure prediction. This was one of the first ever PhD’s on machine learning and bioinformatics.

A thousand times more efficient than a human scientist

In 2004 Ross King started his work on the first Robot Scientist, ‘Adam’, at the University of Wales at Aberystwyth. Adam was the first machine to autonomously discover scientific knowledge: the function of some orphan enzymes in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The second Robot Scientist, ‘Eve’, found some lead compounds for neglected tropical diseases. Eve is moving to Chalmers.

“These are modest but not trivial discoveries. However, working with the first Robot Scientists has been a proof of principle, they are prototypes. The next step is to scale up and to make the Robot Scientist a thousand times more efficient than a human scientist performing the same experiments,” says Ross King.

Focus on yeast systems biology

Working at Chalmers will enable Ross King to implement the technology of the Robot Scientist in the field of systems biology.

“I want to focus on systems biology with yeast as a model organism and Chalmers is probably the best place in Europe for that. Since yeast can be used to understand how human cells work, there are medical and pathological reasons for working with this organism. But in the future the idea of using AI, in the form of Robot Scientists, can be applied in different fields of science,” says Ross King.

Stefan Hohmann, Head of Department, Biology and Biological Technology, says that through the recruitment of Ross King the department’s expertise in computational biology will expand greatly, in particular in machine learning.

“His research, especially the robot scientist project, will tie together different activities at the department but also across Chalmers. Ross will link the department to computer science and large initiatives in artificial intelligence such as WASP (funded by the Wallenberg Foundation) and CHAIR (funded by the Chalmers Foundation). The department will also profit from Ross' extensive international network,” says Stefan Hohmann. 

About Ross D. King
  • He is 57 years old and was born in Edinburgh.
  • Moved in October 2019 to Gothenburg from Manchester where he was Professor of Machine Intelligence at the University of Manchester.
  • He led the team that designed and tested the first nondeterministic universal Turing machine. Such computers have the potential to outperform electronic and quantum computers.
  • Some of his major interests are music, literature and nature.
  • He has developed an algorithm for converting protein coding DNA sequences into pieces of music together with Colin Angus of The Shamen

Text: Susanne Nilsson Lindh
Photo: Johan Bodell

Published: Thu 31 Oct 2019.