Looking at Physics with New Eyes



And not the human kind. Artificial intelligence (AI) is piercing the veil of known physical laws and discovering new possibilities never thought of before. During a training session with a Columbia University AI program, scientists showed the artificial intelligence video footage of simple physical phenomena such as pendulums swinging, fire burning, and a parking lot inflatable air dancer. The AI was then asked to figure out the number of variables involved in each kind of motion exhibited in the videos without having any knowledge of actual physics or geometry. The results astounded the Creative Machines Lab team at the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Turns out, the artificial intelligence not only discovered the fundamental variables that predicted the dynamics of the objects seen in the videos, but formulated additional ones never seen before. Because the results are novel in nature, scientists aren't sure how the program discovered them, of how to translate them into rigorous equations of motions humans can understand. "We don’t yet understand the mathematical language it is speaking," said Dr. Boyuan Chen, an assistant professor at Duke University, which happens to be a leading partner in the experiment.

It appears artificial intelligence looks at the physical world with a new set of eyes. Even without any actual pre-programmed input, the algorithms manage to discover the fundamental laws that keep the universe in motion with additional, yet-to-be-understood hidden variables. This level of sophistication and clarity about the workings of nature could bring about a revolution in technology that could propel mankind to the outer reaches of the cosmos and help us understand the way potential extraterrestrial civilizations view physical reality.