Google Drug Discovery, Not Solving Death

November 5, 2021

In 2013, Google wanted to solve death. Just another problem for the Google wizards to address. The mission was assigned to Calico. Backers included Larry Page. Some thumbtypers will recall that Calico is not a plain woven fabric which can contain chunks of the boll’s husk. Nor is Calico a three color fur wrapper. Calico was the California Life Company. Calico suffered a blow when a couple of wizards left the Google to apply machine learning to drug design. Calico still exists, but it is not making much progress on the solving death problem.

What’s interesting is that Google is jumping into an application of machine learning to a less slippery problem: Using smart software to discover new drugs.

Alphabet Is Launching a Company That Uses AI for Drug Discovery” reports:

A new Alphabet company will use artificial intelligence methods for drug discovery, Google’s parent company announced Thursday. It’ll build off of the work done by DeepMind, another Alphabet subsidiary that has done groundbreaking work using AI to predict the structure of proteins. The new company, called Isomorphic Laboratories, will leverage that success to build tools that can help identify new pharmaceuticals. DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis will also serve as the CEO for Isomorphic, but the two companies will stay separate and collaborate occasionally, a spokesperson said.

With the advent of computational chemistry, researchers could fire up a system like Daylight and head to lunch. Upon returning, the system could grind through some fancy math and output “candidates.” Better than paper and pencil work.

With the Covid thing, IBM in early 2020 stated that its Watson system (the Jeopardy winner, of course) would use deep generative models to identify drugs which would address the Covid thing. IBM’s public explanation appears in “Using Generative AI to Accelerate Drug Discovery.” How did that work out? I am not sure. There were candidate drugs, but I don’t recall any giant breakthrough. Maybe IBM is keeping its success secret like the value of the Web Fountain system?

Now the Google is in the drug discovery game. One of my researchers dubbed the effort, “the drug invention game.” I find it interesting that the solving death moon shot did not get off the launch pad. The idea is intriguing, but death? See “Google Vs Death”, please.

The new effort will be separate from the Google. My research suggests that the former leader of DeepMind has specific ideas about smart software. Some of those ideas are not in line with the Google approach or the methods crafted at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. How does one deal with a management challenge?

The answer may be to cut the wizard off from the Google herd. Set up a separate company. Use the reliable me-too approach to innovation. Avoid internecine warfare between two different ideas about applied machine learning.

Will Google be able to make up for the lost momentum since 2013? I don’t know.

Stephen E Arnold, November 5, 2021


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