Humans are born inventors – we keep on devising new technologies to (supposedly) make our lives easier and have a deeper understanding of how things work. There exists a collaborative relation between the human input and artificial intelligence, transforming our thoughts into tangible results. Computers are the closest form of technology that strives to ultimately match the human mind, albeit with much effort. Of course, this revolutionary equipment, introduced in the 80s and 90s, has changed our lives forever. Moreover, we now carry little computers in our pockets — the worst invention, according to parents — but it has improved our lives none the less. I would think that without applying technology effectively, researchers would be finding it quite difficult to make the leaps they have. In fact one would say that technology is both the fruit and the root of research. Our aim as researchers, broadly, is to investigate and discover, answering unanswered questions, if you will. The tools we use that aid us toward this are constantly evolving, trying to reach an age of high efficiency and turn-around time.
In a chemistry context, chromatography, a traditional method used to determine different kinds of chemical compounds in a sample, has evolved quite significantly over time. Before engineers built an instrument that could do this, many researchers used thin layer chromatography, which uses a sheet of glass, plastic or aluminium foil, coated with a thin layer of an active substance. Think of what happens when a piece of tissue and dip it in water; the water moves up the sheet- that is a form of chromatography!! In the former the ink would move with the “water”, leaving a trail behind it from the starting point, while in practice, the sample would separate into its individual compounds. Well, what my point is: as long as my explanation was, so were the processes one would have had to get through long before getting the results. But now, technological advances have improved the selectivity, efficiency and difficulty in carrying out all operations. I am not saying that we should over indulge and let it run wild, but use it within limits. I have come to know, that while it may be nice to have a machine that analyses your samples while you are at home, unsupervised technology has its disadvantages. I’ve sometimes returned to my beautiful machine and found a bent needles, upside-down sample containers and no results!!! In these cases, I would have preferred a talking instrument that could tell me what went wrong… Alas, we are in the age of discovery, I may be lucky with that one!!
Technological advancement is unavoidable and the debate of whether people will be replaced by machines is controversial. But one thing is clear, technology is there to make our lives and research easier, faster, more efficient. Whether we reach an age where instruments think for themselves, is for us to see in the future! Without people, the thought processes and emotions behind these creations would not be possible!