29 July 2015

Artificial Intelligence made in China

The pioneer of genomics is going to create artificial intelligence

Margarita Paimakova, Vesti 

The head of the Beijing Genomics Institute, based in Shenzhen Province, surprised the scientific community by resigning his powers in early July 2015. Now Jun Wang has announced his desire to focus on research in the field of artificial intelligence.

Jun Wang, former head of the Beijing Institute of Genomics and probably the future creator of artificial intelligence (photo BGI). 

The 39-year-old Wang has collaborated with the Beijing Institute of Genomics since its inception, that is, since 1999. At that time, he was still a graduate student at Peking University. Wang led a team of bioinformatics scientists who carried out projects on sequencing the human genome and the human intestinal microbiome. He then sequenced the rice genome. Wang took on many additional responsibilities and allowed the Institute to carry out many ambitious projects, for example, sequencing the genome of pandas and silkworms and identifying domestication genes.

In 2008, Wang assumed the post of Executive Director. At that time, the Beijing Institute of Genomics had become a huge corporation with 5,000 employees working in offices scattered around the world. Wang gained fame in scientific circles, according to Science (Head of China's leading genome sequencing organization steps down, discusses what's next), due to his ability to make decisions quickly and willingness to undertake any ambitious projects (including the establishment of genomic sequences of about 10,500 birds).

However, now Wang has stated that he does not want to do genomics alone for the rest of his life. He has resigned from his post and will now lead a new initiative of the Institute of Genomics to study the use of artificial intelligence in the analysis and management of huge datasets. According to the scientist, this will help to understand the origins of many diseases and improve the lives of ordinary people.

Wang began his acquaintance with artificial intelligence while still a student. According to him, to understand the genetics of the disease, it is necessary to process huge databases, but this is an extremely difficult job for a person – that is why science needs new tools at the moment.

The Beijing Institute of Genomics plans to attract strategic partners, large companies engaged in information technology and develop a strategy for using artificial intelligence for the benefit of science and medical care. The first goal is to digitize the so–called omics data for one million individuals, which includes not only information about DNA, RNA, proteins and metabolomics, but also clinical and behavioral data.

Such volumes of data require the creation of an innovative health monitoring system based on artificial intelligence, which will help determine the relationship between individual human genomic data, physiological traits and lifestyle.

Researchers hope that such scientific works will help in the prediction and prevention of various diseases.

The artificial intelligence system will consist of two components. The first is large supercomputer platforms. They will work and create algorithms looking for relationships between genes, lifestyle and environmental factors. The second is data clouds. The researchers plan to use data on a million people, as well as be able to update information about their health status at any time. It will take about one billion yuan (approximately 1.6 billion US dollars) to create the first prototype.

"I have always aspired to something bigger and more complex and was not afraid to take risks," Wang comments on his choice. "The Beijing Institute of Genomics is a place that allows me to move on. Artificial intelligence can analyze our health and the patterns of human life much better than us. I hope that this project will become the project of my life and I will be able to implement it in the next 20 years before I retire."

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