A Computational Inflection for Scientific Discovery

Paper by Tom Hope, Doug Downey, Oren Etzioni, Daniel S. Weld, and Eric Horvitz: “We stand at the foot of a significant inflection in the trajectory of scientific discovery. As society continues on its fast-paced digital transformation, so does humankind’s collective scientific knowledge and discourse. We now read and write papers in digitized form, and a great deal of the formal and informal processes of science are captured digitally — including papers, preprints and books, code and datasets, conference presentations, and interactions in social networks and communication platforms. The transition has led to the growth of a tremendous amount of information, opening exciting opportunities for computational models and systems that analyze and harness it. In parallel, exponential growth in data processing power has fueled remarkable advances in AI, including self-supervised neural models capable of learning powerful representations from large-scale unstructured text without costly human supervision. The confluence of societal and computational trends suggests that computer science is poised to ignite a revolution in the scientific process itself.
However, the explosion of scientific data, results and publications stands in stark contrast to the constancy of human cognitive capacity. While scientific knowledge is expanding with rapidity, our minds have remained static, with severe limitations on the capacity for finding, assimilating and manipulating information. We propose a research agenda of task-guided knowledge retrieval, in which systems counter humans’ bounded capacity by ingesting corpora of scientific knowledge and retrieving inspirations, explanations, solutions and evidence synthesized to directly augment human performance on salient tasks in scientific endeavors. We present initial progress on methods and prototypes, and lay out important opportunities and challenges ahead with computational approaches that have the potential to revolutionize science…(More)”.