The future of creativity in basic research: Can artificial agents be authors of scientific discoveries? (VW-Stiftung, 2021-2024)

The project studies the role that current and emerging technologies of Artificial Intelligence (AI) can play in basic research, focusing on agency, creativity, and authorship. Our aim is to help provide the conceptual machinery with which to describe, evaluate, and regulate the current transformative technological development. While that development impacts many sectors including economy, mobility, and the arts, our focus on science will enable us to study the concepts of agency, creativity, and authorship in a relatively well-structured yet rich environment.

How will AI techniques affect our laboratories, the nature and meaning of scientific experiment, and basic research in general? More generally: Can machines be agents, can they be creative, can they produce something genuinely new? To answer these pressing questions, we will employ the scientific laboratory as a laboratory for the study of concepts.

Our work connects methods and techniques from philosophy, physics, and AI in an integrated interdisciplinary approach. We build upon our backgrounds in philosophy of science, in theoretical physics, and in joint interdisciplinary work on agency and machine learning. Furthermore, we use connections to three different communities (Collective behaviour, Climate modeling, and Quantum optics) that currently transform their scientific workflow with a focus on AI methods. The project is structured into three work packages tackling the meaning of experiment in AI-driven research, specific case studies of implementing AI methods in foundational research in physics, and the question of agency and authorship in AI-driven research. The research is pursued jointly by a team of three PhD students Maud van Lier, Andrea López Incera und Sahra Styger, where each student focuses on different workpackages and is supervised by both PIs of the projects, Hans J. Briegel und Thomas Müller.