How Much Structure Is Needed for Huge Quantum Speedups?

Scott Aaronson

I survey, for a general scientific audience, three decades of research into which sorts of problems admit exponential speedups via quantum computers -- from the classics (like the algorithms of Simon and Shor), to the breakthrough of Yamakawa and Zhandry from April 2022. I discuss both the quantum circuit model, which is what we ultimately care about in practice but where our knowledge is radically incomplete, and the so-called oracle or black-box or query complexity model, where we've managed to achieve a much more thorough understanding that then informs our conjectures about the circuit model. I discuss the strengths and weaknesses of switching attention to sampling tasks, as was done in the recent quantum supremacy experiments. I make some skeptical remarks about widely-repeated claims of exponential quantum speedups for practical machine learning and optimization problems. Through many examples, I try to convey the "law of conservation of weirdness," according to which every problem admitting an exponential quantum speedup must have some unusual property to allow the amplitude to be concentrated on the unknown right answer(s).

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