"The work solves a key problem of useability for quantum machine learning. We rigorously proved the conditions under which certain architectures of variational quantum algorithms will or will not have barren plateaus as they are scaled up," said Marco Cerezo, lead author on the paper published in Nature Communications today by a Los Alamos National Laboratory team. Cerezo is a post doc researching quantum information theory at Los Alamos. "With our theorems, you can guarantee that the architecture will be scalable to quantum computers with a large number of qubits." "Usually the approach has been to run an optimization and see if it works, and that was leading to fatigue among researchers in the field," said Patrick Coles, a coauthor of the study.
IMAGE: A barren plateau is a trainability problem that occurs in machine learning optimization algorithms when the problem-solving space turns flat as the algorithm is run. LOS ALAMOS, N.M., March 19, 2021--Many machine learning algorithms on quantum computers suffer from the dreaded "barren plateau" of unsolvability, where they run into dead ends on optimization problems. This challenge had been relatively unstudied--until now. Rigorous theoretical work has established theorems that guarantee whether a given machine learning algorithm will work as it scales up on larger computers. "The work solves a key problem of useability for quantum machine learning. We rigorously proved the conditions under which certain architectures of variational quantum algorithms will or will not have barren plateaus as they are scaled up," said Marco Cerezo, lead author on the paper published in Nature Communications today by a Los Alamos National Laboratory team.
Barren plateau landscapes correspond to gradients that vanish exponentially in the number of qubits. Such landscapes have been demonstrated for variational quantum algorithms and quantum neural networks with either deep circuits or global cost functions. For obvious reasons, it is expected that gradient-based optimizers will be significantly affected by barren plateaus. However, whether or not gradient-free optimizers are impacted is a topic of debate, with some arguing that gradient-free approaches are unaffected by barren plateaus. Here we show that, indeed, gradient-free optimizers do not solve the barren plateau problem. Our main result proves that cost function differences, which are the basis for making decisions in a gradient-free optimization, are exponentially suppressed in a barren plateau. Hence, without exponential precision, gradient-free optimizers will not make progress in the optimization. We numerically confirm this by training in a barren plateau with several gradient-free optimizers (Nelder-Mead, Powell, and COBYLA algorithms), and show that the numbers of shots required in the optimization grows exponentially with the number of qubits.
Applications such as simulating large quantum systems or solving large-scale linear algebra problems are immensely challenging for classical computers due their extremely high computational cost. Quantum computers promise to unlock these applications, although fault-tolerant quantum computers will likely not be available for several years. Currently available quantum devices have serious constraints, including limited qubit numbers and noise processes that limit circuit depth. Variational Quantum Algorithms (VQAs), which employ a classical optimizer to train a parametrized quantum circuit, have emerged as a leading strategy to address these constraints. VQAs have now been proposed for essentially all applications that researchers have envisioned for quantum computers, and they appear to the best hope for obtaining quantum advantage. Nevertheless, challenges remain including the trainability, accuracy, and efficiency of VQAs. In this review article we present an overview of the field of VQAs. Furthermore, we discuss strategies to overcome their challenges as well as the exciting prospects for using them as a means to obtain quantum advantage.
Very little is known about the cost landscape for parametrized Quantum Circuits (PQCs). Nevertheless, PQCs are employed in Quantum Neural Networks and Variational Quantum Algorithms, which may allow for near-term quantum advantage. Such applications require good optimizers to train PQCs. Recent works have focused on quantum-aware optimizers specifically tailored for PQCs. However, ignorance of the cost landscape could hinder progress towards such optimizers. In this work, we analytically prove two results for PQCs: (1) We find an exponentially large symmetry in PQCs, yielding an exponentially large degeneracy of the minima in the cost landscape. (2) We show that noise (specifically non-unital noise) can break these symmetries and lift the degeneracy of minima, making many of them local minima instead of global minima. Based on these results, we introduce an optimization method called Symmetry-based Minima Hopping (SYMH), which exploits the underlying symmetries in PQCs to hop between local minima in the cost landscape. The versatility of SYMH allows it to be combined with local optimizers (e.g., gradient descent) with minimal overhead. Our numerical simulations show that SYMH improves the overall optimizer performance.