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AI powers China’s astronomical quest

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[Photo by Ma Xuejing/China Daily]

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Artificial intelligence is helping China decipher the universe for the world. Chinese astronomers are looking to discover celestial bodies, pulsars and other phenomena by incorporating AI into the work done using a 500-meter spherical radio telescope.

FAST is the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope located in Guizhou, southwestern China. Pulsars, or rapidly rotating neutron stars, are one of the frontiers of research.

The study of pulsars helps researchers understand extreme states of matter and events such as black hole collisions. In an astronomical sense, pulsars are the equivalent of GPS used for terrestrial navigation.

FAST chief scientist Li Di said in an interview, “For the first time, we were able to use AI to find 22 pulsars. Among them were seven fast-moving pulsars with high scientific value in astrophysics.” It included a rotating millisecond pulsar.”

“Since the first pulsar discovery in 1967, about 3,500 pulsars have been discovered worldwide. AI and other cutting-edge technologies have helped accelerate the systematic discovery of pulsars,” he said. said. “Still, discovering 22 pulsars in a relatively short period of time is an impressive achievement.”

What makes this possible is China’s rise as a pioneer in the AI ​​field. According to market consultancy McKinsey, AI is expected to create $600 billion in economic value for China annually.

The Central Economic Work Conference held in mid-December also emphasized that China should build a modern industrial system and improve the international competitiveness of its traditional industries.

The conference will accelerate the research, development and application of cutting-edge technologies in the fields of AI, new energy, biotechnology, green and low-carbon development, quantum computing, and the need to make more efforts towards the development of the digital economy. was emphasized.

AI is currently permeating various industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, and education, and the search for unknowns such as Pulsar clearly shows that there are no limits to the application of AI in this country. says industry experts.

The AI ​​radio astronomy exploration project is led by a group of researchers from the National Astronomical Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, led by Li, and another group led by Chi Mingmin, a professor of data and machine learning at Fudan University.

Notably, tech company Tencent Holdings has also joined the project. Leverage his AI technology and experience at the company to accelerate China’s pulsar hunting.

According to Wang Chengjie, principal researcher at Tencent’s YouTu Lab, Tencent’s AI research arm, there are three key steps to discovering pulsars. Radio telescope observations, signal recordings, and conditions.

“However, the main bottleneck is how to find good signals from large amounts of observational data,” says Wang. “FAST generates a huge amount of data and about 30 to 100 million signal images per week.”

AI and big data techniques are essential to handle all that data (not megabytes, gigabytes, or terabytes, but petabytes, where 1 PB equals 1 billion MB), Wang said. “It would be difficult for existing programs to process such huge amounts of data quickly, relying solely on human astronomers, and that could be where AI can help.”

Tencent’s YouTube Lab applied its computer vision technology and cloud computing and storage capabilities to enable FAST to detect pulsars.

Mr Wang said: “After a lot of hard work, the AI ​​now takes him only three days to complete a workload that previously took him a year. Thanks to the AI, FAST increased Pulsar’s search efficiency by a factor of 120. Wang said the future of astronomy will be rich in data. “AI is expected to play a big role as astronomers face an explosion in the amount of data generated from the next wave of telescopes.”

This year, Tencent and NAOC will also explore the M31 Andromeda galaxy. This is the deepest and most comprehensive search for pulsar-like compact objects in the Milky Way’s neighboring galaxy.

“AI has been deeply applied to various fields of astronomy at home and abroad, such as cosmology, exoplanets and planet formation,” said Cai Zheng, an associate professor at the Department of Astronomy, Tsinghua University in Beijing. He pointed out that China is rapidly catching up with other major countries in using AI to solve problems in astronomy research.

Worldwide, the AI ​​used by Facebook and Google has been employed by astronomers to study the phenomenon Albert Einstein proposed in his general theory of relativity over 100 years ago.

“However, Chinese astronomers and scientists tend to use mature algorithms, while major foreign countries are better at leveraging the latest AI breakthroughs,” said Cai.

“The biggest challenge moving forward is how to harness AI to discover new physics beyond the existing paradigm, unlock the unknown, and truly achieve scientific breakthroughs. .”

AI is driving global competition in the Industrial Internet arena. Countries are betting big on cutting-edge technologies such as AI and their applications across industries and sectors. China’s cabinet, the State Council, expects the country’s AI sector to exceed 1 trillion yuan ($149 billion) by 2030, with related industries likely to grow to over 10 trillion yuan.

Market consultant International Data Corp predicts that China’s AI investment will reach $26.69 billion by 2026, accounting for about 8.9% of global investment, making it the second largest in the world. McKinsey also predicts that the next wave of AI in various fields could create more than $600 billion in economic value for China annually. As an overview, Shanghai’s GDP in 2021 was about $637 billion.

McKinsey partner Shen Kai and his colleagues said in the report that it is now driven by the world’s largest internet consumer base and the ability to engage with consumers in new ways that improve customer loyalty, revenue and market valuation. It is stated that AI applications that are widely adopted in China are used in consumer industries.

“Our research shows that the next decade will create great opportunities for AI growth in emerging sectors in China, such as automotive, transportation and logistics, manufacturing, enterprise software, healthcare and life sciences sectors,” he said.

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