Machine-learning technology has beaten humans at games of chess and Go to worldwide fanfare. A demonstration of its eerily lifelike prowess in making phone calls to unsuspecting people went viral.
But a less-noticed win for DeepMind, the artificial-intelligence arm of Google’s parent Alphabet Inc, at a biennial biology conference could upend how drugmakers find and develop new medicines. It could also dial up pressure on the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies to prepare for a technological arms race. Already, a new breed of upstarts are jumping into the fray.