The World in 2020

A supercharger for science

Artificial intelligence could accelerate research in a range of fields, says Demis Hassabis, co-founder and CEO, DeepMind

The scientific method was perhaps the single most important development in modern history. It established a way to validate truth at a time when misinformation was the norm, allowing natural philosophers to navigate the unknown. From predicting the motions of the planets to discovering the principles of electricity, scientists have honed the ability to distil facts about the universe by generating theories, then using experimentation to qualify those theories. Looking at how far civilisation has come since the Enlightenment, one can’t help being awestruck by all that humanity has achieved using this approach. I believe artificial intelligence (AI) could usher in a new renaissance of discovery, acting as a multiplier for human ingenuity, opening up entirely new areas of inquiry and spurring humanity to realise its full potential.

The promise of AI is that it could serve as an extension of our minds and become a meta-solution. In the same way that the telescope revealed the planetary dynamics that inspired new physics, insights from AI could help scientists solve some of the complex challenges facing society today—from superbugs to climate change to inequality. My hope is to build smarter tools that expand humans’ capacity to identify the root causes and potential solutions to core scientific problems.

Traditional AI programs operate according to hard-coded rules, which restrict them to working within the confines of what is already known. But a new wave of AI systems, inspired…