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Brian Nord wants to build a self-driving telescope. The Fermilab astrophysicist envisions an instrument that, when presented with a hypothesis about the nature of the Universe, figures out the best observations to make on its own. He anticipates that it could take up to thirty years to understand and put together the project’s nuts and bolts. One known component is artificial intelligence (AI)—algorithms similar to those that underpin facial recognition software and nascent self-driving car technology.

Building toward his telescope dream, Nord has begun applying AI to problems in astronomy, such as identifying unusual astronomical objects known as gravitational lenses. His work, he hopes, will both further scientific research and help experts better understand the biases and errors that occur in these powerful new algorithms. He spoke to Physics about his recent projects and how he thinks AI, also known as machine learning, will change the way researchers do science.

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Category: Science