I'll admit that I found this paper a bit of a letdown to read, relative to expectations rooted in its high citation count, and my general excitement and interest to see how deep learning could be brought to bear on molecular design. But before a critique, let's first walk through the mechanics of how the authors' approach works. The method proposed is basically a very straightforward Variational Auto Encoder, or VAE. It takes in a textual SMILES string representation of a molecular structure, uses an encoder to map that into a continuous vector representation, a decoder to map the vector representation back into a a SMILES string, and an auxiliary predictor to predict properties of a molecule given the continuous representation. So, the training loss is a combination of the reconstruction loss (log probability of the true molecule under the distribution produced by the decoder) and the semi-supervised predictive loss. The hope with this model is that it would allow you to sample from a space of potential molecules by starting from an existing molecule, and then optimizing the the vector representation of that molecule to make it score higher on whatever property you want to optimize for. https://i.imgur.com/WzZsCOB.png The authors acknowledge that, in this setup, you're just producing a probability distribution over characters, and that the continuous vectors sampled from the latent space might not actually map to valid SMILES strings, and beyond that may well not correspond to chemically valid molecules. Empirically, they said that the proportion of valid generated molecules ranged between 1 and 70%. But they argue that it'd be too difficult to enforce those constraints, and instead just sample from the model and run the results through a hand-designed filter for molecular validity. In my view, this is the central weakness of the method proposed in this paper: that they seem to have not tackled the question of either chemical viability or even syntactic correctness of the produced molecules. I found it difficult to nail down from the paper what the ultimate percentage of valid molecules was from points in latent space that were off of the training . A table reports "percentage of 5000 randomly-selected latent points that decode to valid molecules after 1000 attempts," but I'm confused by what the 1000 attempts means here - does that mean we draw 1000 samples from the distribution given by the decoder, and see if *any* of those samples are valid? That would be a strange metric, if so, and perhaps it means something different, but it's hard to tell. https://i.imgur.com/9sy0MXB.png This paper made me really curious to see whether a GAN could do better in this space, since it would presumably be better at the task of incentivizing syntactic correctness of produced strings (given that any deviation from correctness could be signal for the discriminator), but it might also lead to issues around mode collapse, and when I last checked the literature, GANs on text data in particular were still not great.