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Will AI cure cancer?

January 26, 2023 -

A microscope focuses on a slide sample for cancer research. © By chokniti/stock.adobe.com

A microscope focuses on a slide sample for cancer research. © By chokniti/stock.adobe.com

A microscope focuses on a slide sample for cancer research. © By chokniti/stock.adobe.com

When we hear about artificial intelligence, it can be tempting for our first thoughts to go toward notions of computers eventually taking over the world and leading to our demise.

After all, whether it’s classic movies like The Terminator or more recent headlines pertaining to programs like ChatGPT, there are certainly plenty of reasons—both farcical and rational—to be wary of dabbling with developments that could quickly go beyond our control.

However, AI also has the capacity to accomplish extraordinary things with the potential to dramatically improve our lives. And a recent study from scientists at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and IBM Research is one of the most exciting examples in recent memory.

The leap from understanding to application

Dr. Wendell Lim of the UCSF Cell Design Institute and Dr. Simone Bianco at IBM Almaden Research Center led their teams to use machine learning—a form of AI that helps computers learn without direct supervision—to rearrange the amino acids in T-cells in order to help them fight cancer.

It works by altering the receptors in a cell that enable it “to sense the outside environment and provide the cell with instructions on how to respond to environmental conditions.”

Essentially, the goal is to teach the cells to identify cancer and kill it.

Similar technology has existed for a while and has proven effective to some extent. The problem, however, is that prior efforts could not get the cells to kill the cancer faster than the cancer could spread. As such, it was effective in slowing the cancer down but seldom led to remission.

To date, the team from IBM and UCSF have created a library of almost 2,400 randomly combined commands for the cells and are systematically testing them to see which are most effective against leukemia. Whereas such research used to rely on “trial-and-error experimentation,” the AI has been able to distinguish more quickly and accurately which combinations are most effective.

As Dr. Kyle Daniels, who worked with Dr. Lim and was the lead author on the study, notes, the end result is a “leap from understanding the science to engineering its real-life application.”

Called to create

While the technology is impressive, it’s important to note that such a “leap” owes as much to the humans behind the study as it does to the machines powering it. And people have been using technology in one form or another to facilitate our development throughout history. So long as the technology remains a tool rather than a crutch, we have every reason to be excited about the possibilities it presents.

However, walking that line can be difficult.

Part of what it means to be made in the image of God is to share his impulse and capacity to create. It can be easy, though, to allow our progress in that respect to turn into complacency.

That’s not to say that the Lord intends every one of us to become an inventor or to dedicate our lives to pushing the boundaries of science. Every science teacher I’ve ever had would be among the first to assure you that humanity would not be better off if that’s how I was spending my time.

But I do believe there is some element of that creative spirit God has instilled in each of us, and finding the proper outlet for it is an important part of each of our unique callings.

Don’t give up

Whether that outlet is through writing, music, cooking, or countless other ways we can use our God-given abilities to improve our lives and the lives of those around us, don’t underestimate what the Lord can do through you if you are willing to put in the work. And don’t get discouraged if success feels elusive.

As Thomas Edison purportedly said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

So ask the Holy Spirit to help you embrace the creative side of your calling and reject the urge to complacency that can so easily stifle that aspect of your God-given purpose. After all, you don’t have to find the cure for cancer to make a creative difference in the lives of others.

How can the Lord use your creativity for his kingdom today?

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