Astronomers gather an astounding amount of data every day (well, mainly at night) in the form of photographs, radio, audio, and spectral analysis from every part of the universe. You’ve no doubt seen the high-resolution photos (here’s the highest res one so far).

To analyse all of this data we need to use machine learning and proper AI – no human being or group of humans is capable of processing all of this data. In fact, astronomy has been using AI longer than most industries precisely because of this. This is what AI is really good for: data analytics powered by machine learning focused on massive data sets, looking for patterns and anomalies.

Read more about AI in astronomy (and make sure you follow the links in the footnotes and references):

 * AI Is Speeding Up Astronomical Discoveries

 * The Evolution of Astronomical AI

 * Astronomical big data processing using machine learning:

Next week, we’ll look at the application of this approach to AI to your business and industry.

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Human beings have always been explorers. We invented microscopes to explore the subatomic particles of that make up the world around us. And we invented telescopes to be able to expand the horizon of our vision into the far distant reaches of our universe. We explore. It’s who we are.

But come with me today in Throw Forward Thursday studio as we jump into the future and see what the astronomers of the future are going to show us. My name is Graeme Codrington, and every Thursday, we have a look at something that’s happening in the future and what it means for us today.

And today I want to take us to what might happen when we discover, well, what is it that astronomers are actually looking for? Obviously, one of the big things we would hope to discover as we scour the universe is we hope to discover life somewhere else in the universe. Intelligent or not, it would change everything, wouldn’t it? If we knew that we were not alone in this vast universe.

But I really want to drill into what astronomers are using to look at the skies around us, to look at those literally billions and billions of stars and galaxies and solar systems and planets that are way beyond what our eyes can see. And whether it is telescopes like the Hubble that we’ve put up into space or radio telescopes dotted around the world that are picking up all sorts of different signals and audio and anyway in which we can look at the universe around us.

What we realise is there is just way too much information being gathered by all of these devices. It’s impossible for any human or any group of human beings to adequately analyse this. The photos and the data of all the different ways in which we measure signals from space are just too much information, and that has exploded over the last 20 years.

Now, in one night of gathering data, you can gather more than what we used to gather in the entire 1980s combined. It really is ridiculous and if you’re a science nerd like I am, please have a look at the links that I’ve put in the notes alongside this episode and follow all of the footnote references to the three resources that I put in there. It’ll blow your mind about what’s happening in the world of astronomy at the moment.

But that leads us to the heart of what I want to talk about today, and that is that we have to use artificial intelligence to analyze this data, and when I say AI, now I really mean AI in the sense of big data, data analytics, machine learning. Not AI in the way that we use it when we’re talking about ChatGPT, that isn’t even 1 % artificially intelligent. It’s a large language model, and we’re using the wrong label for it. What we really mean when we talk about AI is allowing machines to analyse vast amounts of data, look for the patterns in that data, make sense of that, flag up anomalies for human experts to have a look at, learn from those anomalies so that they can get better at further pattern recognising and identification, and then sense making of that data.

So yes, ChatGPT used AI in order to come up with its database that it now uses to sound intelligent, but it isn’t, in fact, itself artificially intelligent. Astronomers, on the other hand, are definitely using machine learning. In fact, they are amongst the first professionals who started using machine learning decades ago. Again, you can read all about that in some of the links that I’ve provided.

So, what does this mean? Well, what it means is that the more computing power we have and the more analytic and machine learning ability we put to work in the astronomy space, the exponential amount of information and data is being processed, which means that the opportunity to extract value, extract valuable information that turns into knowledge, that turns into insight and ultimately wisdom, or that just becomes, and we use this word maybe too much, but in this case, it’s the right word, it becomes exponentially possible that in the very near future if there is something to be found, we’re going to find it.

So, I don’t know what we’re going to find. Part of the reason for using AI in astronomy is that we almost don’t even know what we’re looking for. But we are opening up the realms of physics, we are opening up the realms of understanding how our universe works, which even goes through general relativity to affect how we perceive time and how we engage very much in the real world of the world around us. Keep your eyes on the astronomers as they keep their eyes on the skies, because there’s a lot to be learned, and we’re going to learn a lot in the next few years.

Next week, we’re going to pick up the story as we talk about how we can take this example from one profession of astronomy and apply this understanding of machine learning, big data analytics, and pattern recognising that leads to sense making, and we’ll see how we can apply it to your business and your industry.

Join me next week when we pick up the story. For now, look up to the skies, it’s amazing what’s up there.


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Graeme Codrington, is an internationally recognized futurist, specializing in the future of work. He helps organizations understand the forces that will shape our lives in the next ten years, and how we can respond in order to confidently stay ahead of change. Chat to us about booking Graeme to help you Re-Imagine and upgrade your thinking to identify the emerging opportunities in your industry.

For the past two decades, Graeme has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, travelling to over 80 countries in total, and speaking to around 100,000 people every year. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, and on faculty at 5 top global business schools.



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