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Researchers Use AlphaZero Algorithm to Learn to Control a Quantum System

When the AlphaZero computer algorithm figured out how to beat the best chess programs developed through human expertise, after just four hours on its own, the chess world was astonished.



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At present, using the same algorithm, a research team from Aarhus University in Denmark has learned how to control a quantum computer.

Worldwide, several research teams have been making efforts to develop a quantum computer. A computer such as that would have the ability to solve specific problems that cannot be solved using existing classical computers, even if all these computers in the world are combined into one.

Researchers at Aarhus University share the goal of developing a quantum computer. To this end, a research team led by Professor Jacob Sherson has recently used the AlphaZero computer algorithm to learn to control a quantum system.

An interesting fact about AlphaZero is that it has the ability to learn on its own without the need for any kind of human expertise. Thus, AlphaZero has not only beaten humans but also specialized computer programs in games such as Chess, Shogi, and Go. Moreover, it has learned to achieve this only by playing against itself.

Spending just four hours playing against itself, AlphaZero could beat Stockfish, a leading chess program. Due to its utmost superiority, Danish grandmaster Peter Heine Nielsen compared AlphaZero with a superior alien species that had come to the earth just to beat humans in chess.

AlphaZero is Good Alone—But Better with Researchers

Using computer simulations, the researchers at Aarhus University have demonstrated the wider applicability by using AlphaZero on three different control problems that could each be used prospectively in a quantum computer. The study was reported recently in Nature Quantum Information.

The researchers were very impressed with the ability of AlphaZero to learn.

When we analyzed the data from AlphaZero we saw that the algorithm had learned to exploit an underlying symmetry of the problem that we did not originally consider. That was an amazing experience.

Mogens Dalgaard, Lead PhD Student, Aarhus University

Although AlphaZero is an impressive algorithm on its own, the researchers realized the most optimal results by combining AlphaZero with a specialized quantum optimization algorithm.

This indicates that we are still in need of human skill and expertise, and that the goal of the future should be to understand and develop hybrid intelligence interfaces that optimally exploits the strengths of both.

Jacob Sherson, Professor, Aarhus University

With the aim of accelerating development in this field, the researchers have made the code openly available and they were fascinated to see others’ interest.

Within a few hours I was contacted by major tech-companies with quantum laboratories and international leading universities to establish future collaboration, so it will probably not be long until these methods will find use in practical experiments across the world.

Jacob Sherson, Professor, Aarhus University

Background Information, the Quantum Computer

A quantum computer makes use of the principles of quantum mechanics, a branch of physics that offers insights into the tiniest building blocks of the universe. At such a small scale, the rules are basically different. For example, a system can occur in more than one state at the same time.

Translating into computer language, this implies that a quantum computer has the ability to carry out a number of calculations at the same time, offering considerable acceleration over usual computers.

However, although the theory of quantum computers is well-established, researchers have not yet been able to develop a full-scale quantum computer. This necessitates, apart from other things, that they enhance their ability to gain control over these systems.


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