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“Sky Is The Limit”: Aiming For A Theory Of Everything

More from Dr. Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar

Explorations into the nature of reality have been undertaken across the ages, and in the contemporary world, disparate tools, from gedanken experiments [1-4], experimental consistency checks [5,6] to machine learning and artificial intelligence are being used to illuminate the fundamental layers of reality [7]. A theory of everything, a grand unified theory of physics and nature, has been elusive for the world of Physics.

Representational image.

While unifying various forces and interactions in nature, starting from the unification of electricity and magnetism in James Clerk Maxwell’s seminal work A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism [8] to the electroweak unification by Weinberg-Salam-Glashow [9-11] and research in the direction of establishing the Standard Model including the QCD sector by Murray Gell-Mann and Richard Feynman [12,13], has seen developments in a slow but surefooted manner, we now have a few candidate theories of everything, primary among which is String Theory [14].

Unfortunately, we are still some way off from establishing various areas of the theory in an empirical manner. Chief among this is the concept of supersymmetry [15], which is an important part of String Theory. There were no evidences found for supersymmetry in the first run of the Large Hadron Collider [16].

When the Large Hadron Collider discovered the Higgs Boson in 2011-12 [17-19], there were results that were problematic for the Minimum Supersymmetric Model (MSSM), since the value of the mass of the Higgs Boson at 125 GeV is relatively large for the model and could only be attained with large radiative loop corrections from top squarks that many theoreticians considered to be `unnatural’ [20].

In the absence of experiments that can test certain frontiers of Physics, particularly due to energy constraints particularly at the smallest of scales, the importance of simulations and computational research cannot be underplayed. Gone are the days when Isaac Newton purportedly could sit below an apple tree and infer the concept of classical gravity from an apple that had fallen on his head.

In today’s age, we have increasing levels of computational inputs and power that factor in when considering avenues of new research in Physics. For instance, M-Theory, introduced by Edward Witten in 1995 [21], is a promising approach to a unified model of Physics that includes quantum gravity. It extends the formalism of String Theory.

There have been computational tools relating to machine learning that have lately been used for solving M-Theory geometries [22]. TensorFlow, a computing platform normally used for machine learning, helped in finding 194 equilibrium solutions for one particular type of M-Theory spacetime geometries [23-25].

Artificial intelligence has been one of the primary areas of interest in computational pursuits around Physics research. In 2020, Matsubara Takashi (Osaka University) and Yaguchi Takaharu (Kobe University), along with their research group, were successful in developing technology that could simulate phenomena for which we do not have the detailed formula or mechanism, using artificial intelligence [26].

The underlying step here is the creation of a model from observational data, constrained by the model being consistent and faithful to the laws of Physics. In this pursuit, the researchers utilized digital calculus as well as geometrical approach, such as those of Riemannian geometry and symplectic geometry.

For the former, certain novel digital versions of backpropagation (an algorithm used in machine learning that is used to calculate how one could best correct incorrect responses given by artificial intelligence during the learning period based on differentiation calculations) using automatic differentiation were used [27]. Using this new approach, one could implement and preserve physical laws such as energy conservation. NASA has also used artificial intelligence to find an eighth planet (Kepler-90i) circling Kepler-90, a Sun-like star that is 2545 light-years away from Earth recently [28].

This discovery came about which researchers Andrew Vanderburg and Christopher Shallue trained neural networks to identify transiting exoplanets [29,30]. For this they used a set of 15,000 signals, which had been vetted previously, from the Kepler exoplanet catalogue, based on which they trained a computer to learn how to identify exoplanets in these signals.

The artificial `neural network’ analysed the Kepler data and found weak transit signals from Kepler-90i, after searching for weaker signals in 670 star systems. Recently, new analytical techniques have also been used to constrain effective field theories in experiments in the Large Hadron Collider. Using this experimental data and those from Monte Carlo simulations, we can train neural networks to estimate likelihood ratios for use in limit setting procedures [31,32].

Planet Earth floating in the outer space, surrounded by a complex network of glowing nodes connected by bright lines, extending in the deep blue space around the planet. Global business and communication technology connect everything. Blue space is filled by an abstract computer network that blurs with selective focus. Dark blue background. Planet Earth is in the center, showing North America, South America, Africa and Europe.

The approaches have the advantage of scaling well to large-scale analyses with higher-dimensional parameter spaces and many observables. They also do not require approximations, such as those of parton showers, hard processes or detector effects, besides the likelihood ratio being able to evaluated in microseconds.

In this way, utilising artificial intelligence, we can obtain a high-performance, practical and scalable approach to improve the legacy measurements of the Large Hadron Collider. Artificial intelligence has already been applied successfully to varied scientific fields and problems, such as in tensor networks, for error-correction algorithms and searching for new states of quantum matter [33].

Artificial Intelligence Is Crucial

Artificial intelligence and neural networks were instrumental in finding the Higgs Boson. The data from the Large Hadron Collider has millions of data each day, analyzing which is a tedious process, besides particles like the Higgs boson lie in the noise of this data [34,35]. A quantum computer processor known as the annealer helped the Large Hadron Collider to detect the particle, using patterns in particle collisions [36,37].

Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) architecture can be used to tackle the problem of identifying the particle from colour-flow energy images [38,39]. Current methods to employ conceptual tools like the Fisher Discriminant Analysis on data of jet pull superstructures [40]. It is extremely tough to study the collisions and particles during the operation of the LHC since the half-lifetimes of the particles are small and they decay quickly.

Without artificial intelligence, this discovery may have been impossible! Artificial intelligence has been used in undertaking another seminal experiment – the creation of Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) [41-46]. In this experiment, the gas was cooled to around 1 microkelvin and thereafter the control of the lasers used was given to the artificial intelligence system that was tasked with cooling the trapped gas to temperatures typically in the order of nanokelvins.

The artificial intelligence system could undertake this experiment in a span of less than one hour. Usually, Bose-Einstein condensate is produced using evaporative cooling. Microscopic semiclassical theory, while capable of describing the process, may oversimplify the dynamics and miss more effective and complex methods of evaporation, for instance the finding that circumvention of higher-order inelastic collisions can produce large condensates.

We can now automate the process of the creation of BEC using Machine-learning Online Optimization (MLOO) [46]. We can also create internal models that can predict the performance of future experiments for any set of parameters, using Gaussian processes. Such algorithms can fit models to previous observations and choose the possible future experiments that can best refine the model.

Artificial intelligence helps at the cosmological scale as well, wherein AI has been used to find gravitational wave signatures using deep learning algorithms [47-50]. We can also employ convolutional neural networks to find gravitational lensing in astrophysical data. Recently, the image of a black hole was an example of utilization of machine learning in astrophysics [51-55].

Most gravitational lensing events are subtle, which result in partial arcs or smears, for which artificial intelligence can help with identifying such elements. Machine learning can fasten the simulations for the formation of galaxies, besides being able to extrapolate existing simulations of cosmological structures using neural networks [56-58].

Such techniques have recently been used to match the amount of visible matter to the amount of dark matter in galaxies [59-61]. We can also use neural networks to reconstructs when our atmosphere is hit by cosmic rays [62]. In atmospheric physics, we use algorithms in artificial intelligence such as decision trees, fuzzy logic and neural networks [63,64].

This has a practical aspect, with problems such as the understanding of the mechanism of various kinds of pollution [65]. We can also identify cyclones using self-organizing maps and clustering [66].

Artificial intelligence has been used for describing elements and phenomena in Nuclear Physics, with neural networks being able to represent ground state wavefunctions [67-70]. Using algorithms for artificial intelligence, such as neural networks, we have developed models nuclear physics properties like ground state parities and spin, atomic mass number, neutron capture rates, neutron separation energies, branching probabilities in disparate decay channels as well as beta-decay half-lives, to determine the properties of halo nuclear and exotic systems [71-75].

In the recent past, neural networks have also helped in determining heavy quarks as well as identifying electrons [76]. We can use deep learning to solve Schrodinger’s equation, to find the ground state energy [77]. There is a growing need to turn noisy and large data sets into meaningful information as we try to increase our ability to prepare and control increasingly complex quantum systems experimentally.

It is in this area that we can utilize machine learning, such as the use of algorithmic learning and Bayesian methods for Hamiltonian learning [78], to classify quantum states [79] and to characterize unknown unitary transformations [80].

Reconstruction of the Hamiltonian to identify an accurate model for quantum system dynamics, extracting information on unknown quantum states and engineering quantum gates with pairwise interactions, using both time-independent and time-dependent hamiltonians, are all better done using artificial intelligence. We use quantum machine learning to accelerate the prediction of properties of molecules and materials, and this can be used in-turn to computationally design new molecules and materials [81,82].

Quantum Computing And Experiments

We can infer molecular atomization energies [83], generate new quantum experiments [84], study accurate potential energy surfaces [85] with restricted Boltzmann machines, interpolate interatomic potentials [86], identify phase transitions [87] from entanglement spectrum and generate adaptive feedback schemes for quantum tomography [88] and quantum metrology [89] using machine learning techniques.

We can efficiently generate efficient optimization functions using what are known as variational functions, which are a family of algorithms that utilize training based on an objective function and on circuit parameters. In quantum physics, we can avoid the sign problem for integration for path integrals by finding a better manifold for the integration using machine learning techniques [90].

Representational image.

Speaking of the quantum domain, quantum computing can accelerate deep learning algorithms [91], such as Convolutional Neural Networks, with quantum computing potentially being applied to simulation, optimization and sampling. Major technology companies such as Rigetti [92] and Google (that, along with NASA and Universities Space Research Association, set up Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab in 2013 [93]) are researching Quantum AI and full stack quantum computing.

In material sciences, artificial intelligence has been used to find glass-forming systems, besides being used in different matters, such as in Nanosciences. Semiconductors lie between pure conductors and insulators, in conductivity, and constitute important components in various computing devices, which have been seeing generation-after-generation of evolution in terms of affordability and size.

We require high-precision machines designing for simulating, studying and designing novel kinds of semiconductor systems and processes. Methods around neural network can provide us with an effective way to analyse extreme properties of semiconductors [94].

Recently, a Chinese group of researchers studied deterioration of semiconductor equipment, with the employment of backpropagation neural network model [95] (and the MATLAB Neural Network Toolbox for analysis) as well as grey relation analysis [96] in simultaneous fault detection and classification [97] for semiconductor manufacturing tools, after using the Novellus Vector Machine and its Remote Process Controller (RPC) function [98].

For this process, one undertakes data preprocessing, setting of network variables, choosing input variables, determination of hidden layer neuron, sensitivity analysis and network output results determining principles.

The artificial neural network is created by considering all the relevant factors such as learning trials, momentum correction coefficient and learning rate, which are suitably chosen to accommodate variations in the neural networks. The number of hidden layers of the network is found using the re-selection of previous variables obtained in the experiment.

Johannes Kepler revolutionised science by discovering that the orbit of Mars is an ellipse at the turn of the seventeenth century. He did so by fitting the data tables on planetary orbits, initially to varied ovoid shapes and finally to an ellipse, over a period of four years [99]. This was a prime example of symbolic regression, which refers to the matching of a symbolic expression that accurately marches a given dataset.

As much this has formed the basis of scientific discoveries and breakthroughs in the past, it also poses a core challenge for artificial intelligence as well as Physics. Using symmetries, compositionality, separability and other simplifying properties one can approach and possibly solve a problem that is otherwise often regarded as NP-hard.

Recently, there was the development of a multidimensional, recursive symbolic regression algorithm that combines the fitting of neural networks with a set of physics-inspired techniques, particularly 100 equations from the Feynman Lectures on Physics [100].

While approaches with other publicly available software could discover only 71, this new application of neural networks could discover all of them. While artificial intelligence frameworks, particularly convolutional neural networks, can learn patterns in two-dimensional date quite well. Examples include recognizing objects in digital images as well as handwritten words.

However, such machine learning architectures are not as successful when the data sets are without any associated built-in planar geometry, such as point clouds that are generated by self-driving cars used in three-dimensional computer animation. To bypass this, geometric deep learning, a new discipline of artificial intelligence, emerged around 2016 [101].

With the new framework and what are known as gauge-equivalent convolutional neural networks (gauge CNNs), one can build neural networks that can learn patterns on any type of geometric surface, including curved surfaces.

These developments – extension of artificial intelligence, machine learning and neural network to higher dimensions as well as generalized geometric surfaces are of prime importance for advancement of research in frontier Physics, even as we look at solving the conundrum of Quantum Gravity using approaches such as geometrodynamics and causal dynamical triangulation.

The sky is the limit for the application and relevance of artificial intelligence to probe, analyse, study and find the fundamental elements and nuances of reality in the Universe.


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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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