Brandon Keim in Wired:
In just over a day, a powerful computer program accomplished a feat that took physicists centuries to complete: extrapolating the laws of motion from a pendulum's swings.
Developed by Cornell researchers, the program deduced the natural laws without a shred of knowledge about physics or geometry.
The research is being heralded as a potential breakthrough for science in the Petabyte Age, where computers try to find regularities in massive datasets that are too big and complex for the human mind. (See Wired magazine's July 2008 cover story on “The End of Science.”)
“One of the biggest problems in science today is moving forward and finding the underlying principles in areas where there is lots and lots of data, but there's a theoretical gap. We don't know how things work,” said Hod Lipson, the Cornell University computational researcher who co-wrote the program. “I think this is going to be an important tool.”
Condensing rules from raw data has long been considered the province of human intuition, not machine intelligence. It could foreshadow an age in which scientists and programs work as equals to decipher datasets too complex for human analysis.