Quantum annealing (QA)


Quantum annealing (QA) is a metaheuristic for finding the global minimum of a given objective function over a given set of candidate solutions (candidate states), by a process using quantum fluctuations (in other words, a meta-procedure for finding a procedure that finds an absolute minimum size/length/cost/distance from within a possibly very large, but nonetheless finite set of possible solutions using quantum fluctuation-based computation instead of classical computation). Quantum annealing is used mainly for problems where the search space is discrete (combinatorial optimization problems) with many local minima; such as finding the ground state of a spin glass or the traveling salesman problem. It was formulated in its present form by T. Kadowaki and H. Nishimori (ja) in "Quantum annealing in the transverse Ising model" though a proposal in a different form had been made by A. B. Finnila, M. A. Gomez, C. Sebenik and J. D. Doll, in "Quantum annealing: A new method for minimizing multidimensional functions".

Quantum annealing starts from a quantum-mechanical superposition of all possible states (candidate states) with equal weights. Then the system evolves following the time-dependent Schrödinger equation, a natural quantum-mechanical evolution of physical systems. The amplitudes of all candidate states keep changing, realizing a quantum parallelism, according to the time-dependent strength of the transverse field, which causes quantum tunneling between states. If the rate of change of the transverse field is slow enough, the system stays close to the ground state of the instantaneous Hamiltonian (also see adiabatic quantum computation). If the rate of change of the transverse field is accelerated, the system may leave the ground state temporarily but produce a higher likelihood of concluding in the ground state of the final problem Hamiltonian, i.e., diabatic quantum computation. The transverse field is finally switched off, and the system is expected to have reached the ground state of the classical Ising model that corresponds to the solution to the original optimization problem. An experimental demonstration of the success of quantum annealing for random magnets was reported immediately after the initial theoretical proposal.

Comparison to simulated annealing

Quantum annealing can be compared to simulated annealing, whose "temperature" parameter plays a similar role to QA's tunneling field strength. In simulated annealing, the temperature determines the probability of moving to a state of higher "energy" from a single current state. In quantum annealing, the strength of transverse field determines the quantum-mechanical probability to change the amplitudes of all states in parallel. Analytical and numerical evidence suggests that quantum annealing outperforms simulated annealing under certain conditions.

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