AI Workshop Surveys Landscape, Assesses Big Ideas

Dr. Ellen Rothenberg discusses T-cell lineage.
AI workshop speaker Craig Mundie (l) casts a bold vision of medical research in the machine-learning era, as NIH director Dr. Francis Collins looks on.

It’s been nearly 160 years since Milton Bradley introduced a “Game of Life” wherein players navigate around a brightly painted board, landing on spaces that dole out good fortune and bad. Although modern editions billed it as a “game of skill and chance,” contemporary Life relied more on the whimsy of a Wheel of Fortune than on personal acumen for success. At the Day of Reckoning you were as likely to wind up a millionaire as a pauper. That’s life, right?

What if players had extraordinary, suprahuman help, though, to foresee dangers, dodge misfortunes and seize advantages? And what if the game ultimately was your real life—or specifically, your health?

That was the fascinating salvo keynote speaker Craig Mundie launched at a recent all-day workshop devoted to “Harnessing Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to Advance Biomedical Research.”

We’re seeking prescience about our health, the tech oracle suggested. “How do we structure the problem in such a way that the machine can learn the answer and tell it to us, as opposed to the other way around?” he asked. “This is a big difference between whether you’re just trying to make the machine do what you already know how to do—things it can do more efficiently—or, are you saying, ‘No, the machine can know things I’ll never find out’? That’s a very different way to think.”

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NHGRI Alum Studies Reactions to Genomic Information

Dr. Saskia Sanderson
Dr. Saskia Sanderson

On the 15th anniversary of the founding of NHGRI’s Social and Behavioral Research Branch (and the 25th anniversary of the institute itself), one of SBRB’s first postdoctoral fellows—Dr. Saskia Sanderson, who arrived in 2007— returned to a kind of hero’s welcome recently when she explored the psychological impact of learning one’s personal genetic information during a talk in Lipsett Amphitheater.

It wasn’t like World Cup cheering in a soccer stadium, but it was a bit more boisterous than the usual welcome accorded speakers giving rounds. It was a homecoming after all, acknowledging the success of an alumnus—Sanderson has since gone on to research positions in Manhattan and, currently, in London.

A senior research associate at University College London, Sanderson discussed the utility of genome sequencing for physical and mental health—the balance of benefits versus risks that people compute internally when they stand to know more about their likelihood of disease than they would have had the human genome never been sequenced.

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