Condensed Matter Seminar Series

Nic Shannon

Professor, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology

 AI meets Theoretical Physics:  machine learning assisted solution of a difficult problem in frustrated magnetism

Much has been made of the potential of AI to revolutionize the workplace.    The range of tasks which can be performed by machines is expanding rapidly, and in many easily-defined  tasks, such as playing chess, machines now comfortably out-perform humans.  AI also brings the opportunity to automate many of the routine, repeated, tasks which arise in scientific research.  But how AI will impact on the creative, conceptual, and problem-solving aspects of science, remains an open question.    

In this talk we examine how AI contributed to the solution of a difficult problem in frustrated magnetism: the phase transition from a spin liquid described by a tensor gauge theory into a previously unknown form of magnetic order.  This problem, which had defied conventional numerical simulation, was solved through a generative use of support vector machine (SVM), without prior training on related problems.   However, neither the contributions of the SVM, nor that of the human researchers, proved decisive by themselves.    Rather, success followed from a process resembling a collaboration between man and machine.    We argue that this kind of "collaboration" may become the norm, especially in research involving large sets of data.