The compound sketched here is acetaminophen. Most wouldn’t know that offhand and might struggle through messy Google searches in an attempt to find out. But what if our computers understood the sketch and we just had to voice our question?
Some folks at MIT figured out a way to turn what sounds like a sci-fi fantasy setup into reality. You grab a tablet computer, a smart whiteboard, or another device which allows for stylus-based input and draw out a molecule, a compound or a circuit design. Then you ask your computer whether such an object exists anywhere in a database or on the internet and if so, to identify it. Your trusty pal will not only be able to interpret your sloppy sketch and convert it into a query, but it will also be able to adjust to additional questions or demands for modification – even if you’re simply pointing at the screen. What if you added an element here? What if this wasn’t here? Is there something similar?
There’s still plenty of work left to be done on this software – currently chemistry is its main topic – but we should soon see it developed further and adapted to other fields such as electrical engineering. I just can’t wait for the day when I can doodle instead of trying to figure out how to Google search for “that thing with four triangles and a hexagon-like thingie on the side with the squiggly tail”. [PopSci]