If you're not a physicist, the concept of "quantum" will likely confuse you, or simply put you off. But even for experts, the quantum world can be complex. Luckily, in a world where for nearly every challenge there's a bespoke robot ready to help, an AI now makes it easier to navigate quantum systems too.
The same type of artificial intelligence that mastered the ancient game of Go could help wrestle with the amazing complexity of quantum systems containing billions of particles. Google's AlphaGo artificial neural network made headlines last year when it bested a world champion at Go. After marvelling at this feat, Giuseppe Carleo of ETH Zurich in Switzerland thought it might be possible to build a similar machine-learning tool to crack one of the knottiest problems in quantum physics. Now, he has built just such a neural network – which could turn out to be a game changer in understanding quantum systems. Go is far more complex than chess, in that the number of possible positions on a Go board could exceed the number of atoms in the universe.
A new machine learning tool can calculate the energy required to make--or break--a molecule with higher accuracy than conventional methods. While the tool can currently only handle simple molecules, it paves the way for future insights in quantum chemistry. "Using machine learning to solve the fundamental equations governing quantum chemistry has been an open problem for several years, and there's a lot of excitement around it right now," says co-creator Giuseppe Carleo, a research scientist at the Flatiron Institute's Center for Computational Quantum Physics in New York City. A better understanding of the formation and destruction of molecules, he says, could reveal the inner workings of the chemical reactions vital to life. The team's tool estimates the amount of energy needed to assemble or pull apart a molecule, such as water or ammonia.