Nobody knows when (or if) The Singularity will arrive, bringing super-smart artificial intelligences — but within twenty years, astronomy could become the first discipline where discoveries outpace scientists' ability to keep up with them, says the Technology Review.
Within a couple decades, astronomers won't ever need to go near a cutting-edge telescope, says a new paper by Ray Norris at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Epping, Australia. Explains the Technology Review:
Norris paints an optimistic picture. For him, the future is filled with automation that will make astronomers' jobs easier. He says, for example, that in twenty years time: "I expect to be able to click on an object in a paper, and see its image at all wavelengths." This data will be provided more or less automatically by a new generation of smart telescopes that calibrate and edit data on the fly and then send it to a Virtual Observatory that anybody can access.
The job for astronomers will be to theorise about this data, to look for patterns within it and to see how it explains some problems and creates others. They might then suggest what other data to collect.
But it gets more intense. As the Technology Review points out, Cornell University researchers last year developed a genetic algorithm that can derive laws of physics from astronomical data. The algorithm came up with Newton's laws of motion on its own, but also came up with some other mathematical relationships that scientists are at a loss to explain. So is it possible that within 20 years, astronomers will be struggling to keep up with the latest discoveries and developments in their own field? And could other sciences be next? The whole post is worth checking out.
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Top image: Hubble Space Telescope image of the Crab Nebula. [Technology Review]