Scientists Created an AI That Seems to 'Learn' Basic Physics Like a Human Baby

Artificial intelligence (AI) systems are already far superior to humans in some tasks, such as playing Go or processing enormous amounts of data, yet even just a few months after we are born, AI is still far behind us in many other areas.

For instance, even very young kids instinctively understand that an object shouldn't disappear and then reappearance somewhere else. Babies react with amazement when they witness such a magic trick.

But an AI hasn't been able to easily understand such a straightforward continuity rule, together with other fundamental physical rules. Currently, a recent study introduces PLATO, an AI that was motivated by studies on how infants learn.

PLATO, which stands for Physics Learning through Auto-encoding and Tracking Objects, was taught using a set of coding-enhanced films that were intended to mimic the early information that infants possess.

Fortunately for us, developmental psychologists have spent decades recording the many components or concepts that go into physical knowledge, according to neuroscientist Luis Piloto of the UK-based AI research facility DeepMind.

"We created and open sourced a physical concepts data set, extending their work. To evaluate physical notions in our models, this synthetic video data set draws influence from the original developmental trials.

We all develop an early understanding of three fundamental ideas: permanence (items won't abruptly vanish); solidity (items can't pass through one another); and continuity (items move consistently across space and time).

These three notions were included in the data set that the researchers created, along with two more: directional inertia and unchangeableness (the idea that an object's attributes, such as its form, remain constant).

Videos showing balls bouncing off of one another, dropping on the ground, vanishing behind other objects, reappearing, etc. were used to illustrate these ideas. The next stage was to put PLATO to the test after training it on these videos.

When PLATO was given recordings depicting 'impossible' events that went against the rules of physics it had learnt, it exhibited astonishment (or the AI equivalent of it) because it was intelligent enough to realize that something strange had occurred that violated the laws of physics.

This occurred after just brief training durations, in some cases only 28 hours. Technically speaking, the researchers were seeking for violation-of-expectation (VoE) signals that would indicate that the AI grasped the principles that it had been taught, exactly like in newborn studies.

"Our object-based model displayed robust VoE effects across all five concepts we studied, despite having been trained on video data in which the specific probe events did not occur," the researchers write in their recently published work.

Using items other than those in the training set, the team conducted further experiments. Again, PLATO demonstrated that it could learn and go beyond its fundamental training knowledge by exhibiting a clear comprehension of what should and shouldn't be happening.

PLATO, however, is still not nearly at the level of a three-month-old infant. When AI was presented scenarios without any objects or when the training and testing models were comparable, there was less surprise.

Additionally, the movies that PLATO was trained on had additional information to aid in its recognition of the objects and their three-dimensional movement.

To fully understand the situation, it appears that some innate information is still needed, and developmental biologists are still perplexed by the "nature versus nurture" dilemma in newborns. The study may improve our comprehension of the human mind and aid in the development of more accurate AI models of it.

"Our modeling work provides a proof-of-concept demonstration that at least some central concepts in intuitive physics can be acquired through visual learning," the researchers write.

Although studies in certain precocial (born in an advanced condition) animals imply that some fundamental physical notions might be present from birth, the findings indicate that in humans, intuitive physics knowledge arises early in life but can be influenced by visual experience.

The research has been published in Nature Human Behavior.