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Cornell Researchers Adopt AI to Expand the Boundaries of Science

Cornell is in charge of a new $11.3 million center devoted to human-AI collaboration using mathematics as a common language, with artificial intelligence prepared to aid in fundamental scientific discoveries that will change the world.

Cornell Researchers Adopt AI to Expand the Boundaries of Science

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Christopher J. Earls, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell Engineering, is the head of the Scientific Artificial Intelligence Center, or SciAI Center, which is being established with funding from the Office of Naval Research.

Co-investigators include Alex Townsend, associate professor of mathematics in the College of Arts and Sciences, Anil Damle, assistant professor of computer science in the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, and Nikolaos Bouklas, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell Engineering.

All of the researchers work at the Center for Applied Mathematics as field faculty members.

With the advancement of AI systems—created with tangled webs of algorithms and trained on increasingly massive sets of data—academics fear AI’s inner workings may provide little insight into its uncanny ability to spot patterns in data and make scientific predictions. Earls defined it as a scenario at odds with actual scientific discovery.

Scientific theories are explanatory stories that offer mechanistic insights into how the universe works. These theories offer reasoning behind what has been observed, but also, they predict that which has yet to be observed. Such extrapolatory power is entirely beyond anything standard AI can achieve. Our new center will pioneer radically new AI approaches for scientific discovery.

Christopher J. Earls, Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University

The SciAI Center will use mathematics as a common language between humans and machines since, according to Townsend, math is how scientists have portrayed the world for hundreds of years.

Instead of getting AI to predict the future using data from a physical system, we will get AI to speak in the language of calculus and derive the underlying differential equations that govern a physical system. We are trying to develop an AI-human collaboration that can become our science teacher, revealing patterns of the natural world.

Alex Townsend, Associate Professor, Mathematics, College of Arts and Science, Cornell University

The SciAI Center will focus on four areas of research: scientific data, operator learning, closure models, and complex systems. Its three primary application areas will be materials, turbulence, and autonomy.

By blending machine learning techniques with physics-informed algorithms, we can accelerate computational methods to aid in the understanding of materials and molecular systems.

Anil Damle, Assistant Professor, Computer Science, Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, Cornell University

Damle added that Cornell is a perfect location for such a center since it promotes interdisciplinary study, allowing scholars from a wide range of fields to collaborate.

The center will be dedicated to assisting underrepresented groups in science and engineering to have access to cutting-edge AI capabilities in addition to its research objectives through several student pathway programs that train young researchers to work in new companies.

The United States Naval Academy, the University of California, Santa Cruz, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Cambridge, Brown University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Integer Technologies are among the other institutions taking part.

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