Three years ago, Jun Wang, at the time heading Chinas’ leading genomics institution, decided to go all-in on Artificial Intelligence.
If the spirit of the High Tech Summit 2018 was to be symbolized by just one individual, Dr. Jun Wang would be an excellent candidate. In 2015, with several world’s first genome sequencing results on his CV, Wang renounced his position as head of the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI). Since he has been committed to an extremely ambitious program aiming to combine genomics, health care science, and research in Artificial Intelligence (AI).
“Basically, I am just trying to feed an AI system with masses of data”, Jun Wang said in an interview with Nature. “Then that system could learn to understand human health and human life better than we do. The AI will try to draw a formula for life. Life is digital, like a computer program – if you want to understand the results of the programming, how the genes lead to phenotypes, it is sufficiently complicated for you to need an AI system to figure out the rules.”
First Asian persons’ genome
In other words, having Jun Wang present the progress in his self-chosen quest at a digitization event like the High Tech Summit would always be a scoop. And this year, with an underlying theme on smart healthcare, it couldn’t be more to the point.
Jun Wang is one of China’s top scientists. In 2012, he made it to the Nature 10 – the list of the worlds’ ten most important scientists that year according to Nature.
As a young researcher, Jun Wang joined the BGI at its founding in 1999. Over the following years, he contributed to several major breakthroughs, including the sequencing of the first genome of an Asian person, the giant panda, the human gut microbiome, and contributions to the Human Genome Project. By 2007 he became head of the BGI. He held that position until 2015 when he – then aged 39 – took the scientific community be surprise by stepping down.
One million digitized lives
Although moving from genomics to AI might seem like an entirely new career, he sees things differently.
“I trained in AI already as an undergraduate. To me both life science and genomics have now run into a bottleneck in handling data from tens of thousands of samples, yet that is still not enough to understand the genetics of disease. These huge data sets need new tools for analysis. AI and machine learning could do something with Big Data and for peoples’ health”, Jun Wang told the Science Magazine.
According to interviews in 2015, Jun Wang set out with an ambition of gathering data from at least 1 million people. So, one million digitized lives. Is this still his ambition? And how far has his team come? To know, you will just have to attend the High Tech Summit 2018!
“It’s no use closing your eyes to the changes. We need to constantly keep up and try to influence the process.”
Professor Jan Madsen, DTU Compute