The AI takeover is here. At least, that’s what some newspapers thought when they heard about Chinese structural biologist Yan Ning’s decision to give up a permanent job at Princeton University and work in the mother country instead, because advanced AI would have superseded her expertise created.
Yan’s controversial decision
The South China Morning Post reports that Chinese scientist Yan Ning broke her silence at the Shenzhen Forum, denying that her return to China was the result of a losing battle against AI.
The scientist told the press that despite modern advances in machine learning, there are still many areas of her area of expertise that need to be covered artificially. “We are embracing AI, but we are disappointed after trying it out,” Yan said at the Xplorer Forum hosted by the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen on Nov. 27.
In the talk, she also discussed AlphaFold, a type of artificial intelligence software created by DeepMind that predicts protein structure.
The fundamental problem of the speech is the limitations of AI in structural biology research. For several leading researchers, the goal of structural biology is biology itself to understand life and make biological discoveries – and a structure resolution is just one tool to do this.
Yan stated on the forum that “the result is not bad, but not enough to replace scientists everywhere.”
The scientist added that there is still a lot of work to be done, and since the predictions are based on learning from known protein structures, it is more accurate for proteins with similar amino acid sequences and appears flawed for new proteins.
Yan, who left Tsinghua University in China for Princeton in 2017, announced on November 1 that she would become Dean of the Shenzhen Medical Academy of Research and Translation. In her most recent public speech, she refuted claims that an AI had caused her “unemployment.”
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According to a Global Times editorial, the return of biologist Yan Ning to China sparked extensive debate and interest in Chinese scientific circles.
Yan called her return to China her “third dream.” She believes that Shenzhen will play an important role in biomedicine in 10 or 20 years, thanks to the joint efforts of many generations. She also wants to “create a platform to support more excellent scientists” and “make original breakthroughs”.
More about Yan Ning
Yan Ning’s name has long been out of the reach of scientists and is well known in the local community. The “Goddess Scientist,” Yan Ning, who was named Tsinghua’s “youngest promoter” in 2007, is a person who “doesn’t follow the usual path at all.”
She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. Ten years later, in 2017, she accepted an invitation from Princeton University to become the Shirley M. Tilghman Professor of Molecular Biology. Yan has been a regular subject of public discussion due to many notable events.
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