John Pavlus

Contributing Correspondent

A glass object being shaped by a blowtorch.]
Abstractions blog

Why Is Glass Rigid? Signs of Its Secret Structure Emerge.

July 7, 2020

At the molecular level, glass looks like a liquid. But an artificial neural network has picked up on hidden structure in its molecules that may explain why glass is rigid like a solid.

A digital simulacrum of a protein.
abstractions blog

A Digital Locksmith Has Decoded Biology’s Molecular Keys

June 3, 2020

Neural networks have been taught to quickly read the surfaces of proteins — molecules critical to many biological processes.

artificial intelligence

Common Sense Comes Closer to Computers

April 30, 2020

The problem of common-sense reasoning has plagued the field of artificial intelligence for over 50 years. Now a new approach, borrowing from two disparate lines of thinking, has made important progress.

Illustration of a pair of lungs being scanned in three dimensions, with a status bar that reads “Scanning lung tissue: 60%.”
artificial intelligence

An Idea From Physics Helps AI See in Higher Dimensions

January 9, 2020

The laws of physics stay the same no matter one’s perspective. Now this idea is allowing computers to detect features in curved and higher-dimensional space.

Illustration of cartoon characters working alongside a machine.
artificial intelligence

Machines Beat Humans on a Reading Test. But Do They Understand?

October 17, 2019

A tool known as BERT can now beat humans on advanced reading-comprehension tests. But it’s also revealed how far AI has to go.

The researcher Iyad Rahwan sitting at his desk.

The Anthropologist of Artificial Intelligence

August 26, 2019

Iyad Rahwan’s radical idea: The best way to understand algorithms is to observe their behavior in the wild.


His Artificial Intelligence Sees Inside Living Cells

July 24, 2019

The computer vision scientist Greg Johnson is building systems that can recognize organelles on sight and show the dynamics of living cells more clearly than microscopy can.


Curious About Consciousness? Ask the Self-Aware Machines

July 11, 2019

Consciousness is a famously hard problem, so Hod Lipson is starting from the basics: with self-aware robots that can help us understand how we think.

Abstractions blog

Sum-of-Three-Cubes Problem Solved for ‘Stubborn’ Number 33

March 26, 2019

A number theorist with programming prowess has found a solution to 33 = x³ + y³ + z³, a much-studied equation that went unsolved for 64 years.

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Scientific American, Bloomberg Businessweek, and The Best American Science and Nature Writing series. He lives in Portland, Oregon.