A group of Spanish researchers from IBM has used a supercomputer to, according to them, create a quantum artificial life. The results of the study have been published in Scientific Reports.
The scientists used a recent quantum algorithm to show that quantum computers can mimic some of the patterns of biology in the real world. With this new algorithm, they programmed behaviors related to self-replication, mutation, the interaction between individuals and death
Although it is still a prototype initial proof of concept, the experiment opens the door to further delve into the relationship between quantum mechanics and the origins of life because the same principles that govern quantum physics may have played a role in the formation of our genetic code.
A new approach
The creation of artificial life within computers has been the subject of many previous experiments, but they used software that took a classic, Newtonian approach in the production of these models, step by step, with logical progressions.
But this new approach took the other way. This is because in the real world there are quantum phenomena (such as those that occur at the micro level) and the new research aims to add that same unpredictability to computer simulations. In other words, the simulations are no longer limited to 1 and 0 but can introduce some of the randomnesses we see in everyday life. That promises to open a new field ready to be explored.
“The objective of the proposed model is to reproduce the characteristic processes of Darwinian evolution, adapted to the language of quantum algorithms and quantum computing,” the researchers write, from the University of the Basque Country in Spain.
Using the IBM QX4 quantum computer, the researchers coded quantum life units consisting of two qubits (basic building blocks of quantum physics): one to represent the genotype (the genetic code passed between generations) and another to represent the phenotype (the external manifestation of that code or of the “body”).
These units were programmed to reproduce, mutate, evolve and die just as any real living being would. In addition, they introduced random changes by rotations of the quantum state to simulate the mutation, for example. Surprisingly, these real quantum calculations coincided with the theoretical models that the team had devised in 2015.
Some questions will still take time to be answered
It should be noted that we are still far from answering deeper questions about life, the Universe, and about producing artificial life inside a quantum computer, but this experiment shows that it could be possible. It also fits perfectly with the research of the same team published last year, in which natural selection, learning and memory were imitated in a theoretical quantum model.
Now that theory has taken the first steps to practical use within a real quantum computer. But, as with almost everything else in the field of quantum mechanics, scientists are learning on the fly. In addition, the supercomputer used for the experiment is not yet a quantum computer in the strict sense of the term.
“We leave open the question of whether the origin of life is really quantum mechanical,” explain the researchers. “What we are testing here is that microscopic quantum systems can efficiently encode quantum characteristics and biological behaviors, usually associated with living systems and natural selection.”
At the end of last year, IBM introduced the first commercial quantum cloud computing service. The purpose of the service is also to develop software for future quantum computers. The company plans to create a 50-qubit quantum computer, especially for this service.