Artificial intelligence teaches itself to solve gnarly quantum challenges

Artificial intelligence teaches itself to solve gnarly quantum challenges

Rather than battle it out to obsolescence, new research shows how quantum and classical systems can evolve together.


In popular culture, quantum computing is often painted as an ultra-powerful technology that will first outrace, and then replace its classical counterpart. In reality, though, the two are inextricably linked.

We use classical computation and simulations to develop and design today’s nascent quantum devices, which are then nested within a much larger framework of classical computers.

The effort to advance these different technologies – which both fuel and rely on each other – resembles something like a dance. Movement is required on both sides. It takes the best in classical computing to advance quantum capabilities, yet each leap in quantum computation demands more of its classical partner.

This pas de deux recently took one more step thanks to a new paper published in Nature Physics by researchers at Perimeter Institute and the University of Waterloo, with collaborators at ETH ZurichMicrosoft Station QD-Wave Systems, and the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

The team applied an artificial intelligence (AI) to a particular problem in quantum computing: working out the state of a quantum device using only snapshots of data gleaned from experimental measurements.

This is a gnarly challenge. The state of a quantum system contains all the information about that system. However, you can only extract some information at any one time. (“This is partly due to the uncertainty principle and mostly just due to the nature of quantum mechanics itself,” noted Perimeter PhD student Barak Shoshany in an answer on Quora.)

Giacomo Torlai
Perimeter Institute Associate Graduate student Giacomo Torlai.

Why is it worth the hassle? Because this ability – to know, and therefore exploit, a quantum state – is crucial to quantum computing. Until we can do that, our ability to scale the small quantum devices that we do have, or manufacture more robust quantum computing hardware, remains limited.

Currently, we ascertain the state of quantum devices using a process called “quantum state tomography,” or QST. Using imperfect snapshots of the system as a starting point, researchers mathematically backtrack until they can ascertain the full quantum state at the moment the measurements were taken. This “reverse-engineering” approach is performed with complex algorithms that require a considerable amount of data input and manipulation. It is a significant challenge because of the huge number of incomplete snapshots required to perform the reconstruction.

In the new paper, “Neural-network quantum state tomography,” Perimeter Associate graduate student Giacomo Torlai, Perimeter Associate Faculty member Roger Melko, and collaborators applied the same process, but had a cutting-edge AI neural network do the heavy lifting.

They embraced unsupervised machine learning – essentially, an AI that learns for itself. The AI learned how to combine the measurements of the quantum hardware to create its complete quantum mechanical description.

“Our algorithm only requires raw data obtained from simple measurements accessible in experiments,” Torlai said. “The idea is to build a general and reliable tool to assist the development of the next generation of quantum simulators and noisy intermediate-scale quantum technologies.”


In industry, neural networks are often used to mine big data. Torlai and collaborators reversed that dynamic: they took an industry-standard neural network, called a restricted Boltzmann machine, and applied it to theoretical research.

It is part of the broader “quantum machine learning” program in which theorists and experimentalists use machine learning to design and analyze quantum systems.

Torlai, a Ph.D. student who came to Waterloo specifically to work with Melko, first used machine learning to study quantum error correction for topological quantum systems.

In this latest research project, he designed the machine-learning methods to perform neural-network QST. The team then performed the tests using controlled artificial datasets generated from a number of different quantum states.

They started with a standard (but still complex) system, in which interacting quantum spins are arranged on a lattice. This model is used in quantum simulators based on ultra-cold ions and atoms, and its tomography is very difficult using traditional approaches. The self-learning AI worked.

The team then progressed to increasingly difficult challenges until they reached one of the most complex things to calculate: entanglement entropy.

Entanglement entropy is associated with the information that is lost when you isolate a region to study its quantum properties. By “cutting out” part of the system to study, you inevitably leave some entangled partners out of the equation. This corresponds to missing information, which corresponds to entropy.

Entanglement entropy provides important information about interacting, many-body quantum systems, and is of great interest in condensed matter physics and quantum information theory. But assessing entanglement entropy in experiments is fiendishly difficult.

The team found that the neural network was able to provide an estimate of entanglement entropy using simple measurements of density, which are accessible using today’s experimental capabilities. “This approach can benefit existing and future generations of devices ranging from quantum computers to ultra-cold atom quantum simulators,” they write.


Unlike the majority of approaches designed to understand quantum hardware – which are tailored to the specific regime – the team’s AI is platform-agnostic. The neural network, they write, is general enough to be applied to a variety of quantum devices, including highly entangled quantum circuits, adiabatic quantum simulators, and experiments with ultra-cold atoms and ion traps in higher dimensions.

“Our approach can be used to directly validate quantum computers and simulators, as well as to indirectly reconstruct quantities which are experimentally challenging for a direct observation.”

Melko and colleagues have already put this to the test. In a more recent paper published as a preprint on the arXiv in January, the AI was applied to real data. “The original paper only tackled pure quantum states. We had to account for the fact that experiments can be a little more noisy, they can be more dirty and uncontrolled,” he said. “It worked great.”

It’s one more step in what he expects to be a long and fruitful exchange between classical and quantum computation.

“In the future, when we scale these quantum devices, it’s going to be the AI that can watch the quantum system,” Melko said. “The most adaptive, most efficient algorithms will nurture the quantum computers. It’s going to build them, it’s going to design them, and when they’re running, the AI is going to interface with them.”

The key to it all – the music for the dance – is data. With the right AI and enough data, this work shows that it is possible for a general-purpose neural network to learn, probe, and analyze a quantum system, regardless of its theoretical underpinnings.

And that is a good thing, says Torlai. After all, data is an essentially limitless resource.

“We are now at a turning point, with the possibility of generating large amount of data with the quantum hardware currently operational,” he said. “The data will always be truthful.”

Book: “The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth”

Front Cover

Michio Kaku

Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupFeb 20, 2018 – Science – 352 pages

The #1 bestselling author of The Future of the Mind traverses the frontiers of astrophysics, artificial intelligence, and technology to offer a stunning vision of man’s future in space, from settling Mars to traveling to distant galaxies.

Formerly the domain of fiction, moving human civilization to the stars is increasingly becoming a scientific possibility–and a necessity. Whether in the near future due to climate change and the depletion of finite resources, or in the distant future due to catastrophic cosmological events, we must face the reality that humans will one day need to leave planet Earth to survive as a species. World-renowned physicist and futurist Michio Kaku explores in rich, intimate detail the process by which humanity may gradually move away from the planet and develop a sustainable civilization in outer space. He reveals how cutting-edge developments in robotics, nanotechnology, and biotechnology may allow us to terraform and build habitable cities on Mars. He then takes us beyond the solar system to nearby stars, which may soon be reached by nanoships traveling on laser beams at near the speed of light. Finally, he brings us beyond our galaxy, and even beyond our universe, to the possibility of immortality, showing us how humans may someday be able to leave our bodies entirely and laser port to new havens in space. With irrepressible enthusiasm and wonder, Dr. Kaku takes readers on a fascinating journey to a future in which humanity may finally fulfill its long-awaited destiny among the stars.

The Continuous Thread of Revelation: Eudora Welty on Writing, Time, and Embracing the Nonlinearity of How We Become Who We Are

By Maria Popova (

To be human is to unfold in time but remain discontinuous. We are living non sequiturs seeking artificial cohesion through the revisions our memory, that capricious seamstress, performs in threading the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. It is, after all, nothing but a supreme feat of storytelling to draw a continuous thread between one’s childhood self and one’s present-day self, since hardly anything makes these two entities “the same person” — not their height, not their social stature, not their beliefs, not their circle of friends, not even the very cells in their bodies. Somewhere in the lacuna between the experiencing self and the remembering self, we create ourselves in what is literally a matter of making sense — of craftsmanship — for, as Oliver Sacks so poignantly observed, it is narrative that holds our identity together.

But while this self-composition is native to the human experience, there is a subset of humans who have elected the transmutation of discontinuity into cohesion as their life’s work and have made temporality the raw material of their craft: writers. The essence of that craftsmanship is what Pulitzer-winning author Eudora Welty (April 13, 1909–July 23, 2001) explores in a passage from One Writer’s Beginnings(public library) — her three-part memoir adapted from the inaugural Massey Lectures she delivered at Harvard in 1983, shortly after she was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and exactly half a century after The New Yorker rejected her brilliant job application.

Eudora Welty

Welty writes:

The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order, a timetable not necessarily — perhaps not possibly — chronological. The time as we know it subjectively is often the chronology that stories and novels follow: it is the continuous thread of revelation.

Drawing on one of her short stories, whose protagonist holds up her fingers to frame what she is about to paint before she beings painting it, Welty reflects on the evolution of her own understanding of writing and selfhood — a beautiful counterpoint to today’s fashionable fragmentation of the wholeness of personhood into sub-identities:

The frame through which I viewed the world changed too, with time. Greater than scene, I came to see, is situation. Greater than situation is implication. Greater than all of these is a single, entire human being, who will never be confined in any frame.

With an eye to the retrospective pattern-recognition by which we wrest our personhood from our experience — an existential act on which Joan Didion had some magnificent advice — Welty adds:

Writing a story or a novel is one way of discovering sequence in experience, of stumbling upon cause and effect in the happenings of a writer’s own life. This has been the case with me. Connections slowly emerge. Like distant landmarks you are approaching, cause and effect begin to align themselves, draw closer together. Experiences too indefinite of outline in themselves to be recognized for themselves connect and are identified as a larger shape. And suddenly a light is thrown back, as when your train makes a curve, showing that there has been a mountain of meaning rising behind you on the way you’ve come, is rising there still, proven now through retrospect.

Complement this particular passage of Welty’s altogether fantastic One Writer’s Beginnings with anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson on the nonlinearity of how we become who we are and with more life-earned insight into the craft of writing from Susan SontagJames BaldwinGabriel García MárquezErnest HemingwayZadie SmithT.S. Eliot, and other titans of literature, then revisit Welty on friendshipthe difficult art on seeing one another, and a rare recording of her reading her comic and quietly heartbreaking masterpiece “Why I Live at the P.O.”


To quote Mike Zonta, H.W., M., “Translation is ‘magical thinking’  based on self-evident axioms and syllogistic reasoning (which is to say that Translation is not magical thinking at all).”  And to quote Heather Williams, H.W., M., “Translation is the creative process of re-engineering the outdated software of your mind.” Translation  is a 5-step process using words and their meanings and histories to transform the testimony of the senses and uncover  the underlying timeless reality of the Universe.

Sense testimony:

Misuse of power inflicts pain, suffering and misery.

Noam Chomsky: The Singularity is Science Fiction!

Singularity Weblog
Published on Oct 4, 2013…

Dr. Noam Chomsky is a famed linguist, political activist, prolific author and recognized public speaker, who has spent the last 60 years living a double life — one as a political activist and another as a linguist. His activism allegedly made him the US government’s public enemy number one. As a linguist he is often credited for dethroning behaviorism and becoming the “father of modern linguistics” (and/or cognitive science). Put together his accomplishments are the reasons why he is often listed as one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century. And so I was very much looking forward to interviewing him on Singularity 1 on 1.

Unfortunately our time together was delayed, then rushed and a bit shorter than anticipated. So I was pretty nervous throughout and messed up some of my questions and timing. Never-the-less, I believe that we still had a worthy conversation with Dr. Chomsky and I appreciate the generous though limited time that he was able to grant me.

During our 28 minute conversation with Noam Chomsky we cover a variety of interesting topics such as: the balance between his academic and his political life; artificial intelligence and reverse engineering the human brain; why in his view both Deep Blue and Watson are little more than PR; the slow but substantial progress of our civilization; the technological singularity…

Ray Kurzweil – The Singularity Is Near

PBC Networkz
Published on May 12, 2017
A documentary based on Ray Kurzweil’s book, The Singularity Is Near.

Starring Pauley Perrette of CBS Network NCIS TV Series.

Technological singularity, a hypothetical moment in time when artificial intelligence will have progressed to the point of a greater-than-human intelligence


Translators: Richard Hartnett, Ned Henry, Alex Gambeau, Heather Williams

SENSE TESTIMONY: People are not safe.

5th Step Conclusions:

  1. The Inmost Cosmic Harmony and Order is I/THOU Consciousness.
  2. Truth is the ever present security of the I/THOU Consciousness.
  3. All Truth being ONE is harmonious thus people being that Oneness is also harmonious thus safe.
  4. Indestructible empathy is being expressed always and everywhere.

Watching The Olympics Has Inspired Me To Start Trying To Jump Over Stuff 

February 24, 2018 (
Dwight Pettigrew

The Olympics never fail to leave me in awe. It is both humbling and enthralling to witness what the greatest athletes in the world can accomplish when they work hard and push themselves to excel. And this time around, watching the incredible achievements at the winter games in Pyeongchang has motivated me to strive for such excellence myself.

Inspired by the Olympics, I’ve spent the past two weeks trying to jump over all kinds of stuff.

I started with really small things, like a stack of books and the ottoman in my living room. That may not seem like much, but I have big dreams and you have to start somewhere. Besides, I’m pretty sure gold medalist Vincent Zhou didn’t land a quadruple spin thing the first time he put on skates. He started out doing easier jumps and worked up to the way harder ones, probably taking quite a few tumbles along the way. It’s a grueling process, but I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and detangle your foot from the lawn chair you just failed to clear.

Becoming a champion who can soar over a bunch of different junk takes true devotion and a willingness to sacrifice all your personal relationships. Plus, you have to stick to a strict dietary regimen—mine’s mostly beef jerky and pepperoni sticks—as well as a relentless practice schedule. I train for hours with stuff around the house and in my backyard, trying to jump higher, trying to jump forward, trying to jump backward. Sure, there are times I’d rather be hanging out with friends or watching TV, but instead I’m trying one more time to hop that picket fence.

It’s hard to believe, but barely a day goes by anymore when I’m not out there seeing if I can jump over something.

I’ve experienced my fair share of struggles along the way. There are times I’ve tripped. There are times I’ve banged my knees up pretty bad. There was even one time when I totally ate it trying to jump over my car and wound up in an urgent-care clinic. I thought for sure my career was over, but then I had a realization: If Olympians like Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White could come back from devastating injuries to win medals in Pyeongchang, who was I to throw in the towel? It wasn’t long before I was back at it, jumping over stuff at the children’s playground near my home.

What it really comes down to is passion. One of my goals is to make it to Tokyo in 2020 so I can be there during the opening ceremonies to jump the Olympic torch, and I don’t intend to let anything stand in my way. Luckily, the rush of adrenaline I get with each leap allows me to tune out the ache in my quadriceps, the family members who try to guilt me into quitting, and the security guard who tells me I’m not allowed to jump over benches and potted plants at my local shopping center.

That man can throw me out of the mall for misjudging the height of the Boost Mobile kiosk, slamming into it, and causing smartphone accessories to fly in every direction, but he can’t take away my dreams of glory.

I know I may fail. I may never jump up an entire staircase or vault over a school bus. And it’s possible I won’t match the feats of my heroes, pulling off back-to-back 1080s over my neighbor’s hedge the way Chloe Kim can with a snowboard and a half-pipe. But I believe that with grit, determination, and a little luck, I could someday be on your TV representing the United States in the Olympic games.

Perhaps, if that time ever comes and you see me soaring majestically, high above a cardboard box at the center of a jam-packed arena, you, too, will be inspired to achieve greatness.

“Why Albert Einstein was a socialist”

Article Image
Comrade Einstein? (Getty Images)

We’ve discussed before what Einstein thought about god. As he was a brilliant man who thought deeply about many subjects, it can be of great use to learn his perspective on things. While he was a scientist first, his ideas on subjects outside his area of study can still be valuable. Especially if, as in this case, he recognizes his limitations and focuses on general ideas and avoids technical issues.

Einstein’s views on socialism

In 1949, Einstein wrote an article for the magazine Monthly Reviewexplaining his thoughts on socialism. In it, he explains his political positions and why he feels the need to weigh in on a subject that is outside his area of expertise.

In the first section of the essay, he acknowledges that he is a man of science and not an expert on economics. He still feels that he is able to offer a few comments on the subject as “socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends.” As he doesn’t wish to speak scientifically or be overly technical, he argues that a non-expert can make a few points on the subject and begins to do so.

Three fundamental objections to capitalism

Einstein had three bones to pick with capitalism. The first is that “Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being.” He explains his stance that a person is at once an individual and at the same time rather dependent on society for a great many things. However, despite the necessity of a high functioning society for our wellbeing, he sees capitalism as encouraging a mad drive for personal success at the expense of society and leading us to educate our children in a way that reinforces this behavior.

This damages the individual, he argues. It drives us to educate ourselves only to find a job and not to fully develop beyond that. Furthermore, it can leave the individual in a constant state of fear over the risk of losing their livelihood, which leads to Einstein’s second objection.

“The economic anarchy of capitalist society”

His second objection is one of waste and inefficiency. While capitalism strives for efficiency, it cannot always make good use of the total body of labor society has to offer. Einstein sees this as a poor way to organize an economy. He posits that:

“There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers’ goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all.”

While it would be most profitable for society at large if total employment was assured, Einstein suggests that capitalism cannot do this on the grounds that it is more profitable for the owners of the means of production, who are often few in number, to not do so.



The unemployed during the Great Depression. For many writers in the middle of the 20th century, memories of the Great Depression lead to an increased interest in alternatives to capitalism. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

Lastly, he sees the profit motive as a cause of great suffering. Going so far as to say that, “The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil.” He explains further that:

“The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.”

What does Einstein propose as a solution?

His support of socialism comes from the belief that it will solve the problems he finds in capitalism on the grounds that a socialist economy would not be based on the profit motive and would be more oriented towards filling social needs rather than a capitalist economy.

“I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child.”

He is careful to note that central planning alone will not be enough. He warns of the risks of a Soviet-style dictatorship and insists that any type of socialism worthy of the name must be democratic and have protections for the personal freedoms we enjoy. The socialism he had in mind was one more akin to that of the western European nations than that of the communist countries.

After his experience fleeing the Nazis, it is perhaps self-evident that he understood the vital need to assure freedom. He was also opposed to McCarthyism and offered to serve as a character witness when W.E.B Du Bois was accused of being a communist spy. He also worked for civil rights in the United States, was associated with the Princeton chapter of the NAACP, and housed the singer Marian Anderson in his home when she was denied a hotel room in Princeton.

Albert Einstien at his home in 1934. (Getty Images)

So, Einstein is now a masterful economist as well as a physicist?

His objections are philosophic ones rather than economic ones. His argument that the profit motive leads to depressions and that central planning can solve the boom and bust cycle is an argument which would have made much more sense in 1949 when the problem of market failures was more evident than the problem of planning failures. In any case, his arguments do make valid points which must be considered in any debate.

While Einstein was not an economist, he was still a genius who had insights on how the world around him could function better. His endorsement of democratic socialism is well reasoned and done without reservation. Anyone considering why a person might be motivated to support socialism must consider Einstein’s arguments as to why a rich, intelligent, and highly successful person would endorse the ideology.

If you would like to read the essay for yourself, it can be found here.

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