The Big Think

February 28, 2013

Looking under Rocks

Filed under: Science — jasony @ 3:42 pm

“On the practical side, it’s unsurprising to recognize that science might move less quickly than it should simply due to the massive size of what we know: A single individual can comb through only so much of the literature. For example, imagine there are two papers somewhere in the literature, one of which says that A implies B, and another that says B implies C. With the incredible growth of the scientific literature, it’s impossible for anyone to be familiar with all of the papers published in all scientific disciplines, let alone the new research in one’s own subfield. So these two papers remain uncombined, until a computer program finds some way to stitch these two ideas together, recognizing that A implies C, a discovery that was practically impossible due to the vast size of the literature….

Does such a hint of non-understandable pieces of reasoning and thought mean that eventually there will be answers to the riddle of the universe that are going to be too complicated for us to understand, answers that machines can spit out but we cannot grasp? Quite possibly. We’ve already come close. A computer program known as Eureqa that was designed to find patterns and meaning in large datasets not only has recapitulated fundamental laws of physics but has also found explanatory equations that no one really understands. And certain mathematical theorems have been proven by computers, and no one person actually understands the complete proofs, though we know that they are correct. As the mathematician Steven Strogatz has argued, these could be harbingers of an “end of insight.” We had a wonderful several-hundred-year run of explanatory insight, beginning with the dawn of the Scientific Revolution, but maybe that period is drawing to a close.”

Will Computers Ever Make Scientific Discoveries We Can’t Comprehend?

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