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# Is Quantum Parallelism Real?

**Marco Lanzagortaa and Jeﬀrey Uhlmannb
**

a George b University

**Mason University, Fairfax, VA, USA; of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USA
**

ABSTRACT

In this paper we raise questions about the reality of computational quantum parallelism. Such questions are important because while quantum theory is rigorously established, the hypothesis that it supports a more powerful model of computation remains speculative. More speciﬁcally, we suggest the possibility that the seeming computational parallelism oﬀered by quantum superpositions is actually eﬀected by gate-level parallelism in the reversible implementation of the quantum operator. In other words, when the total number of logic operations is analyzed, quantum computing may not be more powerful than classical. This fact has signiﬁcant public policy implications with regard to the relative levels of eﬀort that are appropriate for the development of quantumparallel algorithms and associated hardware (i.e., qubit-based) versus quantum-scale classical hardware. Keywords: Quantum Computing, Quantum Algorithms, Complexity Theory, Quantum Circuit Synthesis, Quantum Gates

1. QUANTUM COMPUTING

Moore’s law continues to hold as the fundamental components of computation - digital logic gates - have grown increasingly smaller in size to support exponentially increasing computational power. Extrapolating forward leads to the conclusion that within a decade or so logic gates will operate at scales at which quantum eﬀects strongly dominate their behavior. Improvements in processing speeds are largely irrelevant to the ﬁeld of theoretical computer science because doubling the speed of a processor roughly doubles the speed of any algorithm that is executed on it. The fact that logic gates in the future will operate in the quantum realm is therefore more important to the ﬁelds of computer engineering and physics than it is to computer science. However, a new ﬁeld of quantum computing has emerged based on a premise that quantum physics oﬀers a new model of computation that is fundamentally more powerful than the classical model and thus has the potential to radically aﬀect the landscape of algorithmic theory. The power of the new quantum computing model derives from a presumption that it is possible to store and simultaneously manipulate an exponentially-large amount of information in a quantum register (i.e., the amount of information is exponential in the size of the register) to perform useful computations. This would be achieved using a register of n qubits (the quantum analog of classical bits) in which information is stored in the form of a quantum superposition of N = 2n states. More speciﬁcally, a single unitary operation can be used to transform an entire superposition of states in one logical step, which seems to imply that O(2n ) state transformations occur in parallel. The ﬁeld of quantum computing is founded on the assumption that the transformation of states in a superposition can be exploited to produce the eﬀect of parallel classical calculations, i.e., that for a ﬁxed amount of physical computational resources, quantum phenomena can permit a larger number of eﬀective computations to be performed than is possible in the classical model within the same resource constraints. In this paper we consider the subtleties associated with the complexity results used to assess the relative performance of quantum and classical algorithms. Our objective is to provide a clear and concise explanation of why the status of quantum computing is less clear than commonly accepted. More speciﬁcally, we discuss the possibility that the seeming computational parallelism oﬀered by quantum superpositions is actually eﬀected by gate-level parallelism in the

Further author information: Lanzagorta: E-mail: mlanzago@gmu.edu, Telephone: 202 767-8427 Uhlmann: E-mail: uhlmannj@missouri.edu, Telephone: 573 884-2129

Quantum Information and Computation VI, edited by Eric J. Donkor, Andrew R. Pirich, Howard E. Brandt, Proc. of SPIE Vol. 6976, 69760W, (2008) · 0277-786X/08/$18 · doi: 10.1117/12.778019

Proc. of SPIE Vol. 6976 69760W-1 2008 SPIE Digital Library -- Subscriber Archive Copy

6976 69760W-2 . Given its fundamental importance. but this does not demonstrate that the quantum approach has superior complexity. In other words. the power of quantum computing must be demonstrated by example in the form of a quantum algorithm that is able to solve a problem with computational complexity surpassing a provable lower bound for any classical alternative. when the total number of logic operations is analyzed. but to extract the complete result of the operation takes time equal to the complexity of the best classical alternative (the FFT). As will be discussed in the following section. The entire process could of course be repeated. Because a quantum system of n particles deﬁnes an exponential 2n number of states. it appears that a small amount of computational hardware can behave like a classical parallel computer with an exponential number of processors.g. quantum computing may not be more powerful than classical. The classical complexity to perform the N evaluations of f is clearly Θ(N ). but that does not seem to be the case. Presumably it should be possible to devise a straightforward example. Technical details are included in an extended appendix. one execution of the operator). measurementinduced superposition collapse and/or the no-cloning theorem. however. 2. even if a quantum algorithm requires fewer iterations than the best classical alternative. ∗ Proc. In other words. of SPIE Vol. What is critical to note is that the ability to exploit quantum phenomena for computational advantage over classical computing is not an implication of quantum theory. quantum parallelism suggests that it is possible to compute the value of a binary function for all N possible values of its input variable in a single computational step. For example... There is no proven optimal bound for the classical analog of the QFT in which the Fourier coeﬃcients are sampled. e. The quantum Fourier transform (QFT) is a similar example of a quantum algorithm that appears to perform a large operation very eﬃciently.reversible implementation of the quantum operator. only O(n) classical bits of information can be extracted. but to extract all N values would require Ω(N log(N )) iterations∗ . Suppose that f is a binary function: f : {0. it is necessary to examine the relative computational expenditures per iteration because of the complexity costs associated with the reversible implementation of quantum operators. 1} and also suppose that U is a reversible quantum operator that performs the following operation: U |x |0 = |x |f (x) Applying U to a uniform quantum superposition performs the following: 1 √ N N −1 x=0 (1) (2) 1 U |x |0 −→ √ N N −1 |x |f (x) x=0 (3) in a single computational step (i. HYPOTHETICAL QUANTUM PARALLELISM Quantum computing hypothesizes that an operator applied to a superposition of states has the eﬀect of being applied to all of the states in parallel. it is natural to ask why the reality of quantum parallelism hasn’t yet been established. The question. This is because a measurement of the quantum register after the evaluation of f has been completed will obtain |xi |f (xi ) (4) with probability 1/N . 1}n → {0. This should be expected if the quantum parallelism assumption is false because that would imply that every such eﬀort must be obstructed in some way by the constraints of the theory. is whether the ratio of extracted information and total computations is superior to what is possible within the classical computing framework. and information relating to all other function evaluations is destroyed. In other words.e.

g. This extra factor of O(N log(N )) gates required for the unitary form changes the relative resource allocation. Shamir [1] showed that an assumption that arithmetic operations on integers have O(1) complexity can be exploited to seemingly oﬀer an O(log(N )) algorithm for integer factorization . e. Furthermore..e. quantum mechanics imposes a signiﬁcant restriction: the transformations applied to the quantum register must be unitary. Shamir achieves this result by essentially packing a superlinear (in N ) number of bits of information into a single integer while treating operations on that huge integer as still having O(1) complexity.which of course would be more eﬃcient even than Shor’s quantum algorithm. However. the number to be factored) then it becomes clear that the algorithm is beneﬁting from a degree of gate-level parallelism that is not actually available on a conventional computer. quantum systems do not provide any free extra-dimensional computational power relative to classical computing. simulation of quantum systems. It now appears. it is interesting to consider the origins of quantum computing. however. Quantum computing assumes that operations can be applied in parallel to all N states in a quantum superposition to solve a given algorithmic problem more eﬃciently than is possible using classical hardware. To Feynman this suggested the possibility that a quantum system could be used to perform those O(4n ) virtual calculations to solve algorithmic problems. most Boolean functions found in practice. it appears that explicit examples of classical Boolean functions requiring superlinear circuits are diﬃcult to constuct. the implementation of an arbitrary unitary operator requires O(4n ) = O(N 2 ) 2-qubit elementary quantum gates [14]. O(n) = O(log(N )). so an alternative classical algorithm should assume the availability of the same number of logic gates. However. On the other hand. In other words. If that is the case. if it is explicitly assumed that the required gate-level parallelism actually is available. If the number of gates grows with N (i. In light of the above discussion.“quantum simulation” is no more powerful than. and in fact no example has been found [3. However. it is well known that it is possible to exploit common assumptions to achieve spurious complexity results that are not consistent with those of a more complete analysis. It must be emphasized that establishing that quantum computing requires O(4n ) gates in the worst case does not resolve the question of whether or not quantum parallelism oﬀers new computational power.. Alternatively.g. and that result is probably no coincidence. This is necessary because a non-unitary operator is equivalent to performing a measurement and thus will cause a collapse of the superposition. This tends to suggest that when the number of eﬀective computations is divided by the total number of gates. 16. 17].. The ﬁeld originated with Richard Feynman’s observation that an n-particle quantum system is speciﬁed in a state space of size 2n and thus would require an O(4n )-element unitary matrix and O(4n ) calculations to be simulated on a classical computer. It could be the † The reader is referred to the Appendix for a more detailed discussion of these circuit complexities Proc. In 1949 Shannon showed that an arbitrary Boolean function requires a classical circuit of size O(2n /n) = O(N/ log(N )) [2].3. Fortunately. we observe that the classical circuit requires a factor of O(N log(N )) fewer gates than the quantum circuit† . Clearly the true complexity must take into account the scaling of the number of logic gates required to support unit-cost operations for the size integers necessary to perform the computations. like those used for arithmetic operations. this fact does not limit the generality of quantum computation because in theory an arbitrary Boolean function can be implemented using unitary operators. this is is precisely what is needed to achieve the same level of parallelism as is potentially available from N states in a superposition. require only linear-size circuits. This suggests that quantum computation may not be more eﬀective at simulating quantum systems (as Feynman had hoped) unless quantum simulation is interpreted to mean that the evolution of one quantum system (possibly in the form of qubits) provides analogical information about a similar quantum system. of SPIE Vol. equity of assumptions is necessary when comparing the computational complexities of diﬀerent algorithms. In most cases such assumptions are inconsequential because a more rigorous and complete analysis will yield essentially the same result. However. however. a hydrodynamic simulation tank that uses real water in a scaled-down system to provide insight about actual ocean systems. ALGORITHM EQUITY ASSUMPTIONS The vast majority of algorithmic analyses in the literature rely on multiple simplifying assumptions which are not explicitly stated. that cannot be solved eﬃciently using classical hardware. 6976 69760W-3 . then competing algorithms may be able to exploit the same assumption to achieve comparable complexity reductions. If we compare the complexities for the worst case scenarios. that O(4n ) quantum gates are required to perform general unitary transformations of quantum systems. e. For example.

Shor’s quantum factorization algorithm is an example in which the unitary operator can be implemented eﬃciently and leads to an overall complexity which exceeds that of the best openly-published classical alternative [15]. 4. For example. but we can suggest the following possibilities: 1. it is entirely possible that the apparent computational savings obtained from the application of the operator to states in a superposition are always precisely balanced by the increased number of reversible gates required to implement the operator. Moreover. any claim regarding the reality of quantum parallelism must be regarded as purely speculative. it is natural to consider how so many researchers could be mistaken into thinking that quantum parallelism is established theory. Unfortunately. As has been discussed. and it raises questions about whether quantum computing has evolved into a pathological science. With an improved understanding of the complexity to implement arbitrary quantum operators it is clear that to perform any calculations with such a grid would require a number of logic gates that would more than ﬁll the universe. In other words. On the other hand. 3. This suggests that quantum computational parallelism may be an illusory consequence of a failure to assess the full computational structure of unitary operators. computer science and Proc. the future of the ﬁeld will be ﬂurries of activity pursuing one deadend after another indeﬁnitely. if its basic premise is false. Speciﬁcally. the validity of the assumption is far from intuitively obvious because it implies. for example. It could be argued that research relating to the implementation of quantum parallelism-based architectures has direct relevance to the implementation of quantum circuits for performing classical computations. This is of course a sociological question. there is no quantum algorithm that demonstrates that quantum computing oﬀers greater algorithmic power than classical. The mistake is in assuming that the eﬀect of parallelism is the same as real computational parallelism. It appears that many researchers accept the purported computational power of quantum parallelism as an established implication of quantum theory. and this is all that is necessary to establish the correctness of quantum algorithms such as Grover’s. but it must stand up under a rigorous complexity analysis with an equity of assumptions. the eﬀect is equivalent to the application of the operator to each of the states in parallel. it does not provably surpass the optimal classical lower bound because the status of factorization is unresolved in the open literature. Until such an algorithm is produced. but this does not imply that they are more computationally eﬃcient than classical alternatives.case that a particular quantum algorithm is able to exploit the special structure of its associated unitary operator so that the implementation of the operator requires only a small number of gates. If the foundations of quantum computing are indeed speculative as suggested in this paper. It is easy to mistake theoretical and empirical demonstrations of the correctness of quantum algorithms as somehow verifying the computational power of quantum parallelism. Thus. This possibility has serious public policy implications because of the amount of resources (both research and experimental) that have been diverted toward quantum parallelism and away from a more focused quantum-level instantiation of the classical model. at present. of SPIE Vol. The fact is that the correctness of quantum algorithms is guaranteed by quantum theory. When an operator is applied to a superposition of states. 2. 6976 69760W-4 . This is a very diﬀerent state of aﬀairs to that recognized by most researchers in the ﬁeld. which of course is not the case. they regard any questioning of the power of quantum parellelism as being equivalent to questioning the validity of quantum theory. However. this is not at all clear from either an algorithmic or hardware perspective. that 800 qubits are suﬃcient to store and manipulate a number of states comparable to the number of bits stored in a grid of Planck-size cells covering the entire universe from the big bang to date at a rate of 1 bit per cell. it may turn out that in every such case the same structure admits a classical algorithm with computational complexity equal to that of the quantum algorithm. DISCUSSION That quantum parallelism oﬀers a more powerful computational framework than the classical model is an assumption that goes beyond the implications of established quantum theory. Providing a quantum algorithm that unambiguously exploits quantum parallelism would of course settle all of the questions raised in this paper.

By contrast. In terms of the number of states N = 2n . Unfortunately. Grover’s Algorithm Explicit circuit constructions have been found for small numbers of qubits.5]‡ . A tighter bound was determined to be O(n4n ) [8]. In summary. These improvements do not aﬀect the exponential complexity. Proc. which was subsequently improved to O(4n ) [14]. Grover’s algorithm has O(N 1/2 ) sequential time complexity and ‡ It turns out that no provably superlinear example has ever even been found [3]. but that fact doesn’t imply that such an apparatus is actually possible and therefore worthy of conﬁdent pursuit. this result implies that Grover’s algorithm must use an exponential (in n) number of gates to achieve its claimed time complexity. 6976 69760W-5 . however. Because key comparison is the simplest operation that distinguishes a unique solution. One would hope that such inherent parallelism would reduce the complexity count of the number of gates necessary to implement arbitrary computations compared to classical solutions. What is important to note is that a classical algorithm can perform a key comparison in O(n) time simply by comparing each of the n bits. 1} (5) The truth table that describes the behavior of F has 2n rows. the Boolean functions used most commonly have small classical circuits of linear size. Bullock and Markov have shown that an arbitrary 2-qubit computation can be achieved with 23 elementary gates (this implementation minimizes the number of multi-qubit interactions. if the same number of logic gates is used by Grover’s algorithm and by the classical solution. this does not appear to be the case. the computational power of quantum computing appears to stem from its ability to perform parallel operations on an exponentially large dataset. which is exponentially faster than Grover’s O(2n/2 ) complexity. using single qubit rotations and at most 2 CNOT operations) [9]. APPENDIX As discussed in the main text. On the hardware side. it is observed (and conjectured as a general result) that all problems that can be decided in O(2n ) time may be decided by a family of linear-size classical circuits [3. and it is diﬃcult to see how the time and resource expenditures for such courses are salvaged if quantum parallelism is a ﬁction. a cold fusion apparatus or an incontrovertible example of quantum parallelism could be announced tomorrow with a similar impact as the announcement in 1986 of a high-temperature superconducting material. On the other hand. This situation is analogous to that of cold fusion (and other speculative research areas) in that existing theory does not preclude the possibility of a room-temperature fusion apparatus. it has been shown that the reversible circuit implementation of an n-qubit quantum oracle comparing a key of length n requires Ω(2n ) quantum gates [4]. and the objective of this paper is simply to highlight this fact. and a direct circuit implementation of this function may require signiﬁcantly less than 2n gates. Di Vincenzo showed in 1994 that the set of all quantum gates operating on 2 bits forms a universal set of gates [6]. and O(4n ) appears to be the optimal bound. Let us ﬁrst consider the classical model. In his celebrated 1949 paper. 1}n → {0.physics departments around the world are now oﬀering courses on quantum algorithms. The same is true for industry and government-supported research into quantum algorithmics. For example. a basis of quantum circuts for unitary transformations has uncountably many gates. Consider F an arbitrary. of SPIE Vol. Further analysis determined that the number of 2-bit gates necessary to implement an arbitrary quantum operation is O(n3 4n ) [7]. And within the context of Grovers algorithm. the reality of quantum computational parallelism is far from established. the problem of maintaining a large number of entangled states to support quantum parallelism addresses a very diﬀerent set of practical issues than mitigating the eﬀects of unwanted entanglement when implementing classical bit operations on quantum-size components. In fact. the solution would be found in O(n) time. This means that if we were to apply 2n /n classical comparisons in parallel to the 2n states in the dataset. n-variable Boolean function: F : {0. Claude Shannon revealed that the computation of most Boolean functions require circuits of exponential size [2].

an arbitrary unitary operation in n-qubits can be accomplished with Ω(2n log(1/δ)/ log(n)) elementary gates [12]. then the corresponding density matrix is described by terms of order O(1/2n ). A unitary operator Ut is deﬁned that approximates a unitary operator U with precision δ if the following inequality is satisﬁed [13]: ||Ut − U || ≤ δ (6) where the operator norm is deﬁned as: ||X|| = sup and |||ψ || = as usual. the founding assumption of quantum computing is that it is possible to apply an O(n) operator in parallel to 2n states in a superposition contained in an n-qubit register to achieve an O(2n ) reduction in The same analysis holds for the case in which the quantum register stores a superposition of indices which reference keys in an external dataset. In this case. if δi is the error for the approximation of operator Ui . In fact. Approximate Circuits The exponentially large circuit complexity needed for the exact representation of an arbitrary unitary operator has motivated the consideration of approximate decompositions of arbitrary unitary operators using a ﬁnite set of elementary gates. While this does not apply to all quantum algorithms (e. but the analyses of time/space tradeoﬀs for reversible computation by Vitanyi [10] and Franck [11] show that this is not possible.. Grover’s).the classical solution has O(log(N )) complexity. § Proc. A question that remains is whether Grover’s algorithm (or any other quantum algorithm) can achieve a complexity advantage from a time/space complexity tradeoﬀ. Indeed. if an n-qubit register holds a uniform superposition. phase. so it may be possible that there is a number of gates for which the complexity of the quantum algorithm is superior to that of the classical algorithm. it can be shown that an m-gate quantum circuit made of CNOT gates and 1-qubit gates can be realized with a circuit of size O(m logc (m/δ)) exclusively using only Hadamard. This means that errors will dominate the result of a quantum computation that runs for Ω(2n ) iterations.g. of SPIE Vol. While these approaches are successful in the reduction of the number of gates in the universal set. which is extremely important for the physical realization of quantum computers and architectures. 6976 69760W-6 . Also. the error in the approximation of the unitary operator has to be δmax << O(1/2n ). just the O(2n ) parallel gates required by Grover’s algorithm to reference the external array are suﬃcient for the classical algorithm to achieve its complexity bound. using a similar ﬁnite set of quantum gates. SK approximations lead to errors which accumulate linearly. it precludes quantum solutions for any hard classical problems. In summary. Thus. changing the available number of gates aﬀects the time complexity for both the quantum and classical algorithms. and it can be concluded based on the results discussed above that there can be no case in which Grover’s algorithm yields a better complexity§ . then the overall error after a concatenation of k approximate operators is: k ||X|ψ || |||ψ || ( ψ|ψ ) (7) (8) δ = i=1 δi ≤ kδmax (9) where δmax = max{δi }. This would require an exponential reduction in gates with only a sublinear increase in the time complexity of Grover’s algorithm. However. and π/8 gates [12]. More speciﬁcally. CNOT. invoking the Solovay-Kitaev Theorem. the error of the approximation has to be an incredibly small number. The critical observation that can be made is that this general algorithmic technique can be applied for any arbitrary oracle. Beyond the exponential preprocessing and space complexity issues. they still imply exponentially large circuits. In this case.

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