Computer system promises cancer breakthroughs

November 20th, 2011 - 4:03 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 20 (IANS) A computer system that can read scientific treatises just like humans promises potential breakthroughs in cancer research.

Called CRAB, it can trawl through millions of scientific articles for clues to the causes of tumours, even stumbling on a potential reason why some chemicals induce pancreatic cancer only in men.

CRAB is the latest outcome of a rapidly-emerging form of artificial intelligence (AI) called natural language processing, used also in the Siri personal assistant software in iPhone 4S.

It allows computers to read texts and derive meaning from them, despite their complexity and ambiguities as humans do, the Telegraph reports.

The system will first be used to assess the risk that new chemicals could cause cancer. “The first stage of any risk assessment is a literature review. It’s a major bottleneck,” said Cambridge University’s Anna Korhonen, who led the development of CRAB.

“There could be tens of thousands of articles for a single chemical. Performed manually, it’s expensive and, because of the rising number of publications, becoming too challenging to manage,” she said.

“Although still under development, the system can be used to make connections that would be difficult to find, even if it had been possible to read all the documents,” said Korhonen.

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