Being Isaac Newton: Computer Derives Natural Laws From Raw Data

By | April 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 ele

The research is published in the journal Science (April 3, 2009) by Hod Lipson, Cornell associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and graduate student Michael Schmidt, a specialist in computational biology.

Their process begins by taking the derivatives of every variable observed with respect to every other – a mathematical way of measuring how one quantity changes as another changes. Then the computer creates equations at random using various constants and variables from the data. It tests these against the known derivatives, keeps the equations that come closest to predicting correctly, modifies them at random and tests again, repeating until it literally evolves a set of equations that accurately describe the behavior of the real system.

Technically, the computer does not output equations, but finds “invariants” – mathematical expressions that remain true all the time.

“Even though it looks like it’s changing erratically, there is always something deeper there that is always constant,” Lipson explained

via Being Isaac Newton: Computer Derives Natural Laws From Raw Data.

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