An artificial intelligence program has identified variables to describe various physical phenomena.
An AI program developed by Columbia Engineering can derive fundamental variables of physics from video footage of physical phenomena. The program analyzed videos of systems like the swinging double pendulum, which researchers already know four "state variables" exist for; the angle and angular velocity of each arm. Within a few hours, the AI determined there were 4.7 variables at play.
"We thought this answer was close enough. Especially since all the AI had access to was raw video footage, without any knowledge of physics or geometry. But we wanted to know what the variables actually were, not just their number," said Hod Lipson, director of the Creative Machines Lab in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
It identified two variables that were related to the angles of each arm. It was unclear how the program interpreted and visualized the other two variables since humans interpret and visualize them differently. However, as the AI was making accurate predictions about the system, it is clear it identified four valid variables. Researchers then applied the AI to systems we don't fully understand, like lava lamps and fireplaces, identifying eight and 24 variables, respectively.
"I always wondered, if we ever met an intelligent alien race, would they have discovered the same physics laws as we have, or might they describe the universe in a different way? Perhaps some phenomena seem enigmatically complex because we are trying to understand them using the wrong set of variables. In the experiments, the number of variables was the same each time the AI restarted, but the specific variables were different each time. So yes, there are alternative ways to describe the universe and it is quite possible that our choices aren't perfect," said Lipson.
Very interesting insights!