AI – on track to understand the Universe in ways that should be impossible

Image credit: Maria Starovoytova /

We have been dismissive, if not rude, about AI over the past few years. At least about the buzz it causes and the marketing nonsense that it generates. If your latest widget or product is not AI driven in some form then frankly we don’t want it.

We have also said that there are two types of AI. There is the ‘very fast look-up’ one that companies across the world are using to speed up processes and cut down head count.

There is the ‘other’ AI which is much scarier and which really does seem capable of learning – and then some.

Ignoring for the moment that our investment in this type of AI is killing the planet faster than any number of plastic bottles, one particular article in our ever popular Friday Futures section brought this home.

Scientists created an AI powered Deep Density Displacement Model (D3M) to run simulations of our Universe and how it came to be how it is. They started by feeding it 8,000 gravity models (each one takes 300 computation hours to create one simulation). And then it could produce a simulation of a Universe 600 light years across in 30 milliseconds.

So far, just a massive amount of computing power that works extremely fast. Right?

What was exciting/scary was that it began to extrapolate its simulations in ways that it should not have been able to. It was, according to Shirley Ho – a senior researcher on the project, ‘like feeding the system data on cats and dogs and then it identifies an elephant’.

If you work in advanced AI labs and understand deep learning then your reaction is probably ‘we’ve been trying to tell you for years’.

If you don’t then this kind of revelation is like a smack in the face. Suddenly we are no longer being rude or dismissive about AI taking away your job (hint: get a job in AI) it is about machines that are far superior to us figuring out how the Universe works.

The scary/exciting bit is who is in control. If we remain in control, then our knowledge of the Universe will increase at ever greater speeds. If AI is in control, then the findings may well point to humans being rubbish at living on planets. And then we won’t be anymore.

And, yes, of course, the answer is 42.

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