DeepMind, the AI lab backed by Google parent company Alphabet, today announced that it used AI to successfully control superheated matter inside a nuclear fusion reactor.
Nuclear fusion — the reaction that powers stars, including the Sun — promises clean, limitless energy by smashing and fusing hydrogen atoms into helium. Unlike some energy sources, fusion produces no greenhouse gases and only small amounts of radioactive waste. But at the lower pressures possible on Earth, the temperatures to achieve fusion must be very high, typically over 100 million Celsius.
Reinforcement learning gives an AI system a set of actions it can apply to its environment to obtain rewards or reach a certain goal. The system — which usually starts by knowing nothing about the environment and selecting random actions — receives rewards based on how its actions bring it closer to its goal and eventually learn sequences of actions that can maximize the rewards.