Artificial-intelligence research escalates amid calls for caution

A look at one of the most rapidly advancing and controversial topics in scientific research.

10 December 2020

Bec Crew

Illustration by Taj Francis

This supplement explores artificial intelligence (AI), one of the most rapidly advancing and controversial topics in scientific research.

Driven by escalating computing power, expanding data sets, and algorithms of unprecedented sophistication, the number of journal and conference papers referring to AI in the Dimensions from Digital Science database increased by more than 600% between 2000 and 2019. Almost one-third of those papers date from 2017 to 2019.

The year 2020 is set to be the biggest yet, both in terms of research published and money invested.

In these pages, we look at emerging technologies that are transforming the ways we live and work, and the growing concern around their potential misuse.

We consider the collective responsibility of all who are engaged in the research and development of AI, including publishers, to ensure that it is carried out ethically and inclusively.

We are pleased to bring you an experiment in AI-powered curation of content from the Nature Index publisher, Springer Nature, related to drug discovery with AI, as well as an account of the current and future uses of AI of scholarly publishing.

We also describe the work of some of the most innovative researchers in the field, and the leading institutions based on output in the 82 high-quality natural-sciences journals tracked by the index.

It is important to note that the Nature Index lens on AI research is a very focused one; the articles picked up by our database search concern specific applications of AI in the life sciences, physical sciences, chemistry, and Earth and environmental sciences.

Between 2015 and 2019, these highly specialized articles comprised just 1.2% of all AI-related articles in the Dimensions database. The leading institutions for AI in the Nature Index are quite different from those with the most AI-related research in Dimensions, with Western institutions dominating the former and China the latter.

This article is a part of the Nature Index 2020 Artificial intelligence supplement.

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