Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Saturday, June 12, 2021

Nutonian Derives Laws of Physics for Life Sciences 

On Wednesay, Cambridge startup Nutonian (pronounced “Newtonian”) announced that it’s raised $4 million with the help of Atlas Venture to build its own analytics platform to unlock the “laws of physics” that govern businesses.

Nutonian’s founder and CEO, Michael Schmidt, received his PhD from Cornell University in computational data mining methods for physics and biology. In 2009 Schmidt and his Cornell advisor, Hod Lipson, published a paper in Science demonstrating that they could develop an algorithm to automate the scientific process to derive laws of physics using experimental data exclusively.

But now that Nutonian is underway, Schmid’s algorithmic approach will be applied to everything from sales forecasts to manufacturing. Called Eureqa, the algorithm uses what’s called “symbolic regression” to to identify patterns that govern business the same way laws of physics govern the sciences, helping researchers to make more informed decisions that are based on causal understanding rather than mere correlation.

“Most of today’s sophisticated [business intelligence] tools make “black box” predictions from your data: they can tell you what’s likely to happen, but not why it will happen or how you can avoid or reproduce it in the future,” Schmidt explained in a sitdown with Xconomy. “It’s all just correlation without any deeper causal understanding or meaning.”

Already Schmidt says that thousands of scientific researchers from life sciences, oil and gas, retail and finance have used its technology.

“We’ve had incredible traction in science and medicine—everything from characterizing the formation of galaxies in the universe to improving cancer detection,” Schmidt said. But the interest isn’t limited to the life sciences sector. Already Eureqa has been used by chemical manufacturers to scale pharmaceutical production, as well as retailers looking to forecast in-store sales.

“Our goal is to be able to serve anyone that needs to predict, control, or understand phenomenon in the data they collect,” he added.

Atlas partner Chris Lynch, who led the investment in Nutonian, voiced his confidence in the startup, saying that the combined impact of himself as well as Boston thought leaders Jit Saxena and Cheng Wu “will be a pebble in the ocean against the value and impact Michael and Nutonian make.”

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