Post Process

Everything to do with E-discovery & ESI

Automating Science

Posted by rjbiii on April 5, 2009

Post Process has, in the past, posted small articles on the changes in technology that are transforming society. We pointed to the new field of computational journalism. We also put up a post discussing the “age of the petabyte,” in which we discussed the consequences of having so much data available. In that post, we highlighted a defense attorney’s use of Google analytics to more objectively examine a community’s definition of “obscenity.”

Now, from Wired, comes word that a computer (or robot, if you like) not only stores and analyzes facts, but uses the presence of the data now available to discover laws of physics on its own. That is, the discovery is made by the computer, rather than a human being:

“It’s a powerful approach,” said University of Michigan computer scientist Martha Pollack, with “the potential to apply to any type of dynamical system.” As possible fields of application, Pollack named environmental systems, weather patterns, population genetics, cosmology and oceanography. “Just about any natural science has the type of structure that would be amenable,” she said.

Compared to laws likely to govern the brain or genome, the laws of motion discovered by the program are extremely simple. But the principles of Lipson and Schmidt’s program should work at higher scales.

The researchers have already applied the program to recordings of individuals’ physiological states and their levels of metabolites, the cellular proteins that collectively run our bodies but remain, molecule by molecule, largely uncharacterized — a perfect example of data lacking a theory.

Their results are still unpublished, but “we’ve found some interesting laws already, some laws that are not known,” said Lipson. “What we’re working on now is the next step — ways in which we can try to explain these equations, correlate them with existing knowledge, try to break these things down into components for which we have clues.”

One wonders if the “automation” of scientific discoveries will now bring such a rapid pace of discovery, that we will all be left behind, hopeless swimming against an ever-stronger tide.

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