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Of course, the use of computers to aid in scientific research goes back about 75 years, and the method of manually poring over data in search of meaningful patterns originated millennia earlier. But some scientists are arguing that the latest techniques in machine learning and AI represent a fundamentally new way of doing science.

Mechanistic models versus machine learning, a fight worth fighting for the biological community?

One such approach, known as generative modeling, can help identify the most plausible theory among competing explanations for observational data, based solely on the data, and, importantly, without any preprogrammed knowledge of what physical processes might be at work in the system under study.

He eventually deduced that planets move in elliptical orbits. Science has also advanced through simulation. Both observation and simulation help scientists generate hypotheses that can then be tested with further observations. Generative modeling differs from both of these approaches. Some scientists see generative modeling and other new techniques simply as power tools for doing traditional science.

But most agree that AI is having an enormous impact, and that its role in science will only grow.


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Ever since graduate school, Schawinski has been making a name for himself in data-driven science. While working on his doctorate, he faced the task of classifying thousands of galaxies based on their appearance. Because no readily available software existed for the job, he decided to crowdsource it — and so the Galaxy Zoo citizen science project was born. Beginning in , ordinary computer users helped astronomers by logging their best guesses as to which galaxy belonged in which category, with majority rule typically leading to correct classifications. Schawinski turned to the powerful new tool of generative modeling in The approach has proved incredibly potent and versatile.

None of these faces is real. The faces in the top row A and left-hand column B were constructed by a generative adversarial network GAN using building-block elements of real faces. The GAN then combined basic features of the faces in A, including their gender, age and face shape, with finer features of faces in B, such as hair color and eye color, to create all the faces in the rest of the grid.


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  • After adequate exposure to training data, a GAN can repair images that have damaged or missing pixels, or they can make blurry photographs sharp. As the program runs, both halves get progressively better.

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    The idea of a latent space is abstract and hard to visualize, but as a rough analogy, think of what your brain might be doing when you try to determine the gender of a human face. The software they used treats the latent space somewhat differently from the way a generative adversarial network treats it, so it is not technically a GAN, though similar.

    Their model created artificial data sets as a way of testing hypotheses about physical processes. For Schawinski, the key question is how much information about stellar and galactic processes could be teased out of the data alone. Then he could re-generate the galaxy and see what differences turned up. This matches existing observations about galaxies, Schawinski said. The question is why this is so. So we should favor that explanation. Using generative modeling, astrophysicists could investigate how galaxies change when they go from low-density regions of the cosmos to high-density regions, and what physical processes are responsible for these changes.

    Adapted from K. Schawinski et al. The approach is related to traditional simulation, but with critical differences. I put all of my hypotheses in there, and I let the simulation run. And then I ask: Does that look like reality? We want the data itself to tell us what might be going on.

    How artificial intelligence is transforming the world

    As an illustration, when 1, senior business leaders in the United States in were asked about AI, only 17 percent said they were familiar with it. They understood there was considerable potential for altering business processes, but were not clear how AI could be deployed within their own organizations. Despite its widespread lack of familiarity, AI is a technology that is transforming every walk of life.

    It is a wide-ranging tool that enables people to rethink how we integrate information, analyze data, and use the resulting insights to improve decisionmaking. Our hope through this comprehensive overview is to explain AI to an audience of policymakers, opinion leaders, and interested observers, and demonstrate how AI already is altering the world and raising important questions for society, the economy, and governance. In this paper, we discuss novel applications in finance, national security, health care, criminal justice, transportation, and smart cities, and address issues such as data access problems, algorithmic bias, AI ethics and transparency, and legal liability for AI decisions.

    We contrast the regulatory approaches of the U. Artificial intelligence algorithms are designed to make decisions, often using real-time data. They are unlike passive machines that are capable only of mechanical or predetermined responses. Using sensors, digital data, or remote inputs, they combine information from a variety of different sources, analyze the material instantly, and act on the insights derived from those data. With massive improvements in storage systems, processing speeds, and analytic techniques, they are capable of tremendous sophistication in analysis and decisionmaking.

    Artificial intelligence is already altering the world and raising important questions for society, the economy, and governance.


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    • AI generally is undertaken in conjunction with machine learning and data analytics. If it spots something that is relevant for a practical problem, software designers can take that knowledge and use it to analyze specific issues. All that is required are data that are sufficiently robust that algorithms can discern useful patterns. Data can come in the form of digital information, satellite imagery, visual information, text, or unstructured data. AI systems have the ability to learn and adapt as they make decisions. In the transportation area, for example, semi-autonomous vehicles have tools that let drivers and vehicles know about upcoming congestion, potholes, highway construction, or other possible traffic impediments.

      Their advanced algorithms, sensors, and cameras incorporate experience in current operations, and use dashboards and visual displays to present information in real time so human drivers are able to make sense of ongoing traffic and vehicular conditions. And in the case of fully autonomous vehicles, advanced systems can completely control the car or truck, and make all the navigational decisions. AI is not a futuristic vision, but rather something that is here today and being integrated with and deployed into a variety of sectors.

      Arguing A.I.: The Battle for Twenty-first-Century Science - Sam Williams - Google Books

      This includes fields such as finance, national security, health care, criminal justice, transportation, and smart cities. There are numerous examples where AI already is making an impact on the world and augmenting human capabilities in significant ways. One of the reasons for the growing role of AI is the tremendous opportunities for economic development that it presents.

      A prominent example of this is taking place in stock exchanges, where high-frequency trading by machines has replaced much of human decisionmaking. People submit buy and sell orders, and computers match them in the blink of an eye without human intervention. Machines can spot trading inefficiencies or market differentials on a very small scale and execute trades that make money according to investor instructions. Fraud detection represents another way AI is helpful in financial systems.

      It sometimes is difficult to discern fraudulent activities in large organizations, but AI can identify abnormalities, outliers, or deviant cases requiring additional investigation. That helps managers find problems early in the cycle, before they reach dangerous levels. AI plays a substantial role in national defense.

      Artificial intelligence will accelerate the traditional process of warfare so rapidly that a new term has been coined: hyperwar. The big data analytics associated with AI will profoundly affect intelligence analysis, as massive amounts of data are sifted in near real time—if not eventually in real time—thereby providing commanders and their staffs a level of intelligence analysis and productivity heretofore unseen.

      Command and control will similarly be affected as human commanders delegate certain routine, and in special circumstances, key decisions to AI platforms, reducing dramatically the time associated with the decision and subsequent action. In the end, warfare is a time competitive process, where the side able to decide the fastest and move most quickly to execution will generally prevail. Indeed, artificially intelligent intelligence systems, tied to AI-assisted command and control systems, can move decision support and decisionmaking to a speed vastly superior to the speeds of the traditional means of waging war.

      So fast will be this process, especially if coupled to automatic decisions to launch artificially intelligent autonomous weapons systems capable of lethal outcomes, that a new term has been coined specifically to embrace the speed at which war will be waged: hyperwar. While the ethical and legal debate is raging over whether America will ever wage war with artificially intelligent autonomous lethal systems, the Chinese and Russians are not nearly so mired in this debate, and we should anticipate our need to defend against these systems operating at hyperwar speeds.

      Just as AI will profoundly affect the speed of warfare, the proliferation of zero day or zero second cyber threats as well as polymorphic malware will challenge even the most sophisticated signature-based cyber protection.

      Hardworking Assistants

      This forces significant improvement to existing cyber defenses. Increasingly, vulnerable systems are migrating, and will need to shift to a layered approach to cybersecurity with cloud-based, cognitive AI platforms. This capability includes DNA-level analysis of heretofore unknown code, with the possibility of recognizing and stopping inbound malicious code by recognizing a string component of the file.

      This is how certain key U. Preparing for hyperwar and defending critical cyber networks must become a high priority because China, Russia, North Korea, and other countries are putting substantial resources into AI. That country hopes AI will provide security, combat terrorism, and improve speech recognition programs.

      AI tools are helping designers improve computational sophistication in health care. For example, Merantix is a German company that applies deep learning to medical issues. What deep learning can do in this situation is train computers on data sets to learn what a normal-looking versus an irregular-appearing lymph node is.

      After doing that through imaging exercises and honing the accuracy of the labeling, radiological imaging specialists can apply this knowledge to actual patients and determine the extent to which someone is at risk of cancerous lymph nodes. Since only a few are likely to test positive, it is a matter of identifying the unhealthy versus healthy node. AI is being deployed in the criminal justice area. It ranks , people on a scale of 0 to , using items such as age, criminal activity, victimization, drug arrest records, and gang affiliation.