Supercharging Research: Harnessing Artificial Intelligence to Meet Global Challenges

Report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST): “Broadly speaking, scientific advances have historically proceeded via a combination of three paradigms: empirical studies and experimentation; scientific theory and mathematical analyses; and numerical experiments and modeling. In recent years a fourth paradigm, data-driven discovery, has emerged.

These four paradigms complement and support each other. However, all four scientific modalities experience impediments to progress. Verification of a scientific hypothesis through experimentation, careful observation, or via clinical trial can be slow and expensive. The range of candidate theories to consider can be too vast and complex for human scientists to analyze. Truly innovative new hypotheses might only be discovered by fortuitous chance, or by exceptionally insightful researchers. Numerical models can be inaccurate or require enormous amounts of computational resources. Data sets can be incomplete, biased, heterogeneous, or noisy to analyze using traditional data science methods.

AI tools have obvious applications in data-driven science, but it has also been a long-standing aspiration to use these technologies to remove, or at least reduce, many of the obstacles encountered in the other three paradigms. With the current advances in AI, this dream is on the cusp of becoming a reality: candidate solutions to scientific problems are being rapidly identified, complex simulations are being enriched, and robust new ways of analyzing data are being developed.

By combining AI with the other three research modes, the rate of scientific progress will be greatly accelerated, and researchers will be positioned to meet urgent global challenges in a timely manner. Like most technologies, AI is dual use: AI technology can facilitate both beneficial and harmful applications and can cause unintended negative consequences if deployed irresponsibly or without expert and ethical human supervision. Nevertheless, PCAST sees great potential for advances in AI to accelerate science and technology for the benefit of society and the planet. In this report, we provide a high-level vision for how AI, if used responsibly, can transform the way that science is done, expand the boundaries of human knowledge, and enable researchers to find solutions to some of society’s most pressing problems…(More)”