National Science Foundation announces MIT-led Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Fundamental Interactions

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) announced today an investment of more than $100 million to establish five artificial intelligence (AI) institutes, each receiving roughly $20 million over five years. One of these, the NSF AI Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Fundamental Interactions ( IAIFI ), will be led by MIT’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science (LNS) and become the intellectual home of more than 25 physics and AI senior researchers at MIT and Harvard, Northeastern, and Tufts universities. 

By merging research in physics and AI, the IAIFI seeks to tackle some of the most challenging problems in physics, including precision calculations of the structure of matter, gravitational-wave detection of merging black holes, and the extraction of new physical laws from noisy data.

“The goal of the IAIFI is to develop the next generation of AI technologies, based on the transformative idea that artificial intelligence can directly incorporate physics intelligence,” says Jesse Thaler, an associate professor of physics at MIT, LNS researcher, and IAIFI director.  “By fusing the ‘deep learning’ revolution with the time-tested strategies of ‘deep thinking’ in physics, we aim to gain a deeper understanding of our universe and of the principles underlying intelligence.”

IAIFI researchers say their approach will enable making groundbreaking physics discoveries, and advance AI more generally, through the development of novel AI approaches that incorporate first principles from fundamental physics.  

“Invoking the simple principle of translational symmetry — which in nature gives rise to conservation of momentum — led to dramatic improvements in image recognition,” says Mike Williams, an associate professor of physics at MIT, LNS researcher, and IAIFI deputy director. “We believe incorporating more complex physics principles will revolutionize how AI is used to study fundamental interactions, while simultaneously advancing the foundations of AI.”

In addition, a core element of the IAIFI mission is to transfer their technologies to the broader AI community.

“Recognizing the critical role of AI, NSF is investing in collaborative research and education hubs, such as the NSF IAIFI anchored at MIT, which will bring together academia, industry, and government to unearth profound discoveries and develop new capabilities,” says NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “Just as prior NSF investments enabled the breakthroughs that have given rise to today’s AI revolution, the awards being announced today will drive discovery and innovation that will sustain American leadership and competitiveness in AI for decades to come.”

Research in AI and fundamental interactions

Fundamental interactions are described by two pillars of modern physics: at short distances by the Standard Model of particle physics, and at long distances by the Lambda Cold Dark Matter model of Big Bang...