Can a Computer Devise a Theory of Everything?

In November, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Max Tegmark is a professor, cashed a check from the National Science Foundation, and opened the metaphorical doors of the new Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Fundamental Interactions. The institute is one of seven set up by the foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of a nationwide effort to galvanize work in artificial intelligence. Each receives $20 million over five years. The M.I.T.-based institute, directed by Jesse Thaler, a particle physicist, is the only one specifically devoted to physics. It includes more than two dozen scientists, from all areas of physics, from M.I.T., Harvard, Northeastern University and Tufts. “What I’m hoping to do is create a venue where researchers from a variety of different fields of physics, as well as researchers who work on computer science, machine-learning or A.I., can come together and have dialogue and teach each other things,” Thaler said over a Zoom call. “Ultimately, I want to have machines that can think like a physicist.”

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