Awesomely awesome: Computer program self-discovers laws of physics

Lipson and Schmidt designed their program to identify linked factors within a dataset fed to the program, then generate equations to describe their relationship. The dataset described the movements of simple mechanical systems like spring-loaded oscillators, single pendulums and double pendulums — mechanisms used by professors to illustrate physical laws.

The program started with near-random combinations of basic mathematical processes — addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and a few algebraic operators.

Initially, the equations generated by the program failed to explain the data, but some failures were slightly less wrong than others. Using a genetic algorithm, the program modified the most promising failures, tested them again, chose the best, and repeated the process until a set of equations evolved to describe the systems. Turns out, some of these equations were very familiar: the law of conservation of momentum, and Newton’s second law of motion…

Their results are still unpublished, but “we’ve found some interesting laws already, some laws that are not known,” said Lipson.