London: Scientists claim to be developing a computer which can read vast amounts of scientific literature, make connections between facts and develop hypotheses, almost in a similar way to humans.

A team at Cambridge University says that the computer system, called CRAB, is able to trawl through millions of peer -reviewed articles for clues to the causes of tumours, and thus it promises breakthroughs in cancer research.

In fact, CRAB is the latest implementation of a rapidly emerging form of artificial intelligence, known as the natural language processing, which is also used in the Siri personal assistant software in the iPhone 4S, say the scientists.

"Although still under development, the system can be used to make connections that would be difficult to find even if it had been possible to read all the documents," Anna Korhonen, who is leading the team to develop CRAB.

It allows computers to read texts and derive meaning from them, despite their complexity and ambiguities, as humans do; and, the system will first be used to assess the risk that new chemicals could cause cancer, say the scientists.

"The first stage of any risk assessment is a literature review. It's a major bottleneck. There could be tens of thousands of articles for a single chemical. Performed manually, it's expensive and, because of the rising number of publications, it's becoming too challenging to manage," the British media quoted Dr Korhonen as saying.

She added: "In a recent experiment, we studied a group of chemicals with unknown mode of action and used the CRAB tool to suggest a new hypothesis that might explain their male-specific carcinogenicity in the pancreas."

CRAB is to be made available to researchers online via a web interface. It is hoped the technology can be adapted to other fields of science.