Energy, mass, speed. The three variables make up Einstein's virtual equation E=MC2. But did Einstein know about these concepts all along? A preliminary step to understanding physics is to identify the relevant variables.
Without the concept of energy, mass and velocity, Einstein could not have discovered the theory of relativity.
But can such variables be discovered automatically? Doing so could greatly accelerate scientific discovery. That's the question Columbia Engineering researchers asked a new AI program designed to observe natural phenomena through a video camera and then try to find the minimum of fundamental variables that fully describe the observed dynamics.
The study was published July 25 in Nature Computational Science.
The researchers started by feeding the video system with phenomena they already knew the answer to. For example, they gave a video of a double pendulum swinging. The phenomenon is known to have exactly four “state variables” – the angle and angular velocity of each of the two arms.
After a few hours of analysis, the AI gave the answer: 4.7. The researchers then proceeded to visualize the actual variables identified by the program.
Extracting the variables themselves wasn't easy, as the program couldn't describe them in a human-understandable way. After some examination, it appeared that two of the variables chosen by the program corresponded to the arm angles, but the two variables remained a mystery.
"We tried to relate the other variables to anything we could think of: angular and linear velocities, kinetic and potential energy, and various combinations of known quantities," said Boyuan Chen Ph.D., an assistant professor at Duke University who led the project.
"But nothing seemed to quite fit." The team was confident that the AI had found a valid set of four variables, as it made very good predictions, "but we still don't understand the mathematical language it speaks," he explained.
After validating some other physical systems with known solutions, the researchers fed videos of systems for which they didn't know the explicit answer, and the program kept returning incredible amounts of variables.
"I've always wondered, if we ever met an intelligent extraterrestrial race, would they have discovered the same laws of physics as us, or would they be able to describe the universe in a different way?" said Hod Lipson, director of the Creative Machines Lab in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
"Perhaps some of the phenomena are puzzling and complex because we are trying to understand them with the wrong set of variables. In the experiments, the number of variables was the same each time the AI started, but the specific variables were different each time. So yes, there are alternative ways to describe the universe, and it's very possible that our choices aren't perfect."
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"But we still don't understand the mathematical language he speaks," said the ... God on Earth. The "expert" who supports the creation of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
But worst of all, it's not that genre experts don't understand. What's worse is that it involves creating (if they haven't already) a chimera that one day, "for reasons beyond the comprehension of the human entity" may bring about the war of machines against humans. And then the problem will be "holistic", as someone else would say. Total to the detriment of humanity, definitive and probably last, for the human species, on Earth.
I am not worried about my generation because this, my generation, after doing as it should, grew up, discredited and is now sidelined in the oblivion of old age. But for the new generations, I'm not worried. I am -almost- terrified, when I think of the song "what a world, father, you have brought me to live in"...