In recent decades, robots have replaced millions of manual laborers; now they’re moving in on scientists, too. A fully automated robotic laboratory can design its own molecular biology experiments and has even made its first discoveries, a multidisciplinary team reports this week. Meanwhile, a team of computer scientists has developed a robot that can independently come up with the laws of motion for a dynamical system such as interconnected pendulums.
Robots are doing ever more of the physical labor in laboratories–from analyzing DNA samples to handling data tapes from massive particle-physics experiments. And scientists increasingly rely on computers to analyze their data. But the highest-level thinking–the formulation of hypotheses and designing of experiments to test them–has remained the preserve of humans.