The AI that can advance science by itself

Iris artificial intelligence might just revolutionise scientific research – and even do it for you.
A shot of Iris AI running on a laptop
Iris AI in action © Iris AI
By Phil Barker

Last week, we took a look at Baby X, the incredibly lifelike and uncanny valley computer model capable of interacting with humans using intelligence and emotion. But Soul Machines’ creation isn’t the only innovative artificial intelligence that's turning heads out there; one recently launched AI has caused a stir in the scientific community due to its ability to ‘read’ research papers and link them to other relevant works, presenting the results in a format that’s easy for researchers to understand.

Right now Iris AI is capable of reading text in research papers and making a fingerprint of the document to determine which topics are being discussed. It's achieved using an algorithm which Iris AI’s designers claim has never been successfully implemented before. But the really useful bit comes from the fact that Iris has read millions of other papers in the past and is capable of learning and including other related concepts, synonyms and hypernyms [a category into which words with more specific meanings fall] in a presentation.

A photograph of the four people that set up Iris AI
Schjøll Brede, Botev, Elosua and Ritola © Dan Taylor

“Iris looks in a database of 66 million research papers and finds other papers that match the fingerprint of your original text,” says Anita Schjøll Brede, the CEO of Iris AI. ”Then she presents all these papers in a visual format, organised by the different topics, allowing you to avoid skimming through endless result lists and digging right into the most interesting areas first.”

Designing Iris proved a big challenge, not least because the developers, who are based in various cities around the world, were attempting to do something genuinely new. “With more well-known methods, you have communities and forums to help you out,” says Schjøll Brede. “But with what we’ve done that didn’t exist.”

Other challenges include the fact that tens of millions of research papers remain tantalisingly out of reach, at least for now. “Right now we have access to about 66 million Open Access papers that can be explored. There’s probably 30-something million articles hidden behind paywalls, and in a lot of fields this includes the most prestigious research. There are several ways to address this and we’re working on it.”

Iris AI showing off other related research on a laptop
Iris AI dips into her extensive research knowledge © Iris AI

It’s a challenge that we’re sure the Iris AI team are capable of overcoming. Every last detail about Iris has been well considered, even down to the sex of Iris.

“There was a big debate a few months back about gendering of AI systems. There’s this trend, especially in the ‘brogrammer’ world of Silicon Valley, of giving AI assistants female names and voices and leaning from the stereotype of servile females in caretaking jobs,” says Schjøll Brede. “Now, as you’ve noticed, our Iris AI is a she, too. But while she’s an assistant today, she’ll be incredibly intelligent when she grows up, and far surpass anyone’s expectations of her. She’ll go on to change the world and we’re very happy and proud of her being a she.”

Four people with eclectic backgrounds founded Iris AI. Schjøll Brede describes herself as a serial entrepreneur, tech geek and storyteller with a background in theatre. She set up her first company at the age of 20 and has been running tech start-ups since 2009. Her other ventures have included building a racing car, which is how Schjøll Brede met motor racing fan and Iris AI chief technology officer Victor Botev, who was also building a racing car. Other founders of Iris AI include finance officer Jacobo Elosua, a former investment banker-turned non-profit tech entrepreneur and open-data activist; and marketing officer Maria Ritola, a climate change researcher who previously worked with various start-ups and the United Nations.

What would an AI be without lofty ambitions to take over the world of science research? “This is just a good beginning,” says Schjøll Brede.

Interested in finding out more? You can put Iris AI through its paces here.

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