Sunday, April 5, 2009

Being Isaac Newton: Computer Derives Natural Laws From Raw Data

Photo: Cornell University doctoral student Michael Schmidt makes adjustments to an automated research system. Using the digital mind that guides a self-repairing robot, Hod Lipson, a researcher at Cornell, and Schmidt have created a computer program that uses raw observational data to tease out fundamental physical laws. The breakthrough may aid the discovery of new scientific truths, particularly for biological systems that have, until now, eluded detection. Such automation in scientific research is becoming more common, raising questions about its impact on science. (Credit: Jonathan Hiller, Cornell University)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Apr. 3, 2009) — If Isaac Newton had access to a supercomputer, he'd have had it watch apples fall – and let it figure out the physical matters. But the computer would have needed to run an algorithm, just developed by Cornell researchers, which can derive natural laws from observed data.

The researchers have taught a computer to find regularities in the natural world that become established laws – yet without any prior scientific knowledge on the part of the computer. They have tested their method, or algorithm, on simple mechanical systems and believe it could be applied to more complex systems ranging from biology to cosmology and be useful in analyzing the mountains of data generated by modern experiments that use electronic data collection.

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