UK mathematicians working in an emerging field somewhere between physics, computer science and philosophy claim to be "computing the incomputable" in a bid to solve "unsolvable" problems.
Barry Cooper, a mathematics professor at University of Leeds, is attempting to find ways of mathematically modelling how the universe computes.
He believes that, while the next generation of computers may boost the power of calculation 10 or even 100 times, there will still be many complex scientific questions that brute force computing cannot resolve.
No one has yet managed to model computably the confusing mix of irrefutable laws and chaotic events which seem to govern nature, making, for example, weather patterns so difficult to predict, according to Cooper.
"Our notion of a mechanical universe governed by the laws of nature does not sit easily with the apparent randomness which we now know forms an important element of subatomic phenomena," said the professor.
"What I am asking is how we can make a computer model for what is happening which somehow takes account of the incomputability in nature."
Cooper went on to describe the next-generation computing being sought by academics aiming to break through the 'Turing Barrier', named after Alan Turing, the founding father of modern computing.
By returning to the roots of what mathematics can and cannot prove, Turing demonstrated that there are apparently some problems no present-day computer could ever solve, i.e. seemingly random events taking place in the real world which cannot be predicted.
Cooper perceives the Turing Barrier as a line in the sand where problems are divided into those which are computable and those which are not, and has placed a limit on scientific work completed ever since.
He noted that academics across Europe have been working on models of computation for some time within their own field, coming at the subject from very different angles. To encourage collaboration and drive theories forward, Cooper has formed the Computability in Europe network.
"There is plenty of computability, and incomputability, theory happening, but researchers have until now tended to work in isolation," said Cooper.
"The computer revolution made a huge difference to everyday life. In breaking the Turing barrier, our knowledge of the world, and therefore our control of it, would be altered forever."
Click here for more information on Professor Cooper's work.
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